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After Post- 


duane rousselle 

After Post-Anarchism 

by Duane Rousselle 

After Post-Anarchism 
by Duane Roussel le 

licensed under creative commons 




(an imprint of LBC Books) 
Berkeley, CA 

ISBN: 978-1-62049-005-1 

For Soren, 

who taught me the value of a leap. 

“What we are dealing with here is an- 
other version of the Lacanian 7/ n'y a 
pas de rapport’: if, for Lacan, there is 
no sexual relationship, then, for Marx- 
ism proper, there is no relationship 
between economy and politics, no 
meta-language enabling us to grasp 
the two levels from the same neutral 
standpoint, although— or, rather, be- 
cause— these two levels are inextric- 
ably intertwined.” 

Slavoj Zizek 

Afterword 1 

The Sacrifice of Knowing 17 

The Unstable Framework of Meta-Ethics 37 

Post-Anarchism: A Case for 

the Centrality of Ethics 119 

Toward an Ethics of the Outside 202 

Conclusion 255 




Children from around the ages of five through 
seven are believed to have already acquired an 
understanding of the social norms surrounding 
sexuality. Immediately following this period of 
development, the child separates himself ever 
more from the object of his affection. It is by 
separating from the object that the child permits 
the introduction of a gap between himself and the 
affectively charged object. But it is not the gap that 
satisfies the child. It is that which fills this gap: a 
fantasy of connection. The child knows very well 
that the fantasy of connection offers a much safer 
encounter with the object than the real connection 
itself, he understands that the best way to achieve 
a harmonious and sustained encounter with the 
object of his affection is to first of all inject the 
appropriate distance. The game of separation is 
played similarly across the whole domain of human 
affairs: separation begets harmony, harmony begets 
divorce, and divorce begets the quest for a new 
object of affection. The child separates to fantasize 
about the object of his affection, the child becomes 
dissatisfied with the object which no longer 
measures up to his fantasy, and, finally, the child 
founds a new object of affection. 


When the object of one’s affection is 
the mother, and when the father imposes the 
injunction ‘No!’, the child wisely accepts the 
mediation of language. Better to accept language 
than to risk a premature fight-to-the-death with 
the father over the mother. There may even be a 
heroic act in the child’s injection of this distance. 
Let me provide an example: I do not enjoy having 
telephone conversations with my grandmother, 
and I am certain that she does not enjoy having 
telephone conversations with me. I should want 
to spare my grandmother’s feelings of guilt for not 
wanting to talk on the telephone with me, and I 
should do so in such a way that she still does not 
have to actually talk with me. After many years of 
awkward telephone conversations, I believe that I 
have solved our problem: I have stopped making 
calls to her. This permits her to blame me, rather 
than herself, for not continuing the conversation, 
and it relieves her of the need to feel guilt for not 
calling me. This is how politics must sometimes 
be played. Sometimes sustaining the precious 
fantasies of traditional anarchist thought requires 
that an anarchist disciple divorce himself from 
orthodoxy to usher in a new edifice. The courage 
involved in such an act is thus that the ostensibly 
sectarian anarchist permits the grandmothers of 
anarchist philosophy (whom he otherwise loves 


dearly and truly) to blame him for not answering 
the call. 

We can also describe this process in the lan- 
guage of rudimentary set theory. What we learn as 
children, and all too quickly forget as adults, is that 
conjunctive operations are best followed by exclu- 
sive disjunctions and that exclusive disjunctions are 
in turn best followed by displacements or the dis- 
covery of the previously invisible ‘superset’. Slavoj 
Zizek discovers a similar logic in the acceptance of 
a new theory: 

[Fjirst, [the new theory] is dismissed as 
nonsense; then, someone claims that 
the new theory, although not without 
its merits, ultimately just puts into new 
words things already said elsewhere; 
finally, the new theory is recognized in 
its novelty (Zizek, 2008: 2). 

This is the path that critics of post-anarchism 
have adopted over the years: first, post-anarchism 
was dismissed as obscurantism, non-sensical, 
academicism, jargon-laden, and so on; next, Jesse 
Cohn & Shawn Wilbur, among others, claimed 
that post-anarchism was not without its merits but 
ultimately just put into new words what was already 
said by the classical anarchists themselves; finally, 
post- anarchism is tolerated and both sides have 


accepted their loses. The final stage has not been a 
divorce of post-anarchism from classical anarchism 
in order to usher in a new edifice but precisely the 
reverse: there has been a consolidation ormarriage of 
the two terms. In other words, it is now obvious that 
post- anarchism has passed through two of these 
major phases in the development of its theory over 
the last three decades. First, post-anarchism was 
defined as an attack on the representative ontologies 
of classical anarchism. Second, post- anarchism was 
defined as a re-reading of the traditional anarchists 
to reveal their quintessential post-structuralist 
nuances — always avant la lettre. It seems to me 
that the second stage has ushered in a marriage 
of sorts between traditionalist anarchists and post- 
anarchists whereby the two sides have cut their 
losses and accepted that (a) anarchism was always 
already post- anarchism, and (b) post-anarchism 
has itself always been a form of anarchism. 

Viewed in this way, we may say that post-an- 
archism functioned as a ‘vanishing mediator’ be- 
tween an old and a new version of anarchism. Van- 
ishing mediators occur between two periods of sta- 
sis; as Fredric Jameson has argued, the protestant 
work ethic (as ‘vanishing mediator’) allowed for a 
transition from feudalism toward capitalism. Simi- 
larly, post-anarchism allows for the transition from 
a particular framing of anarchism toward another 


particular framing of anarchism. Post- anarchism 
continues to be used as a description for a particu- 
lar type of anarchist project insofar as that project 
can not be satisfied by recourse to tradition. In this 
case, I am more inclined to describe post- anarchism 
as a ‘ displaced mediator’ that can be revived at a 
moment’s notice to reconfigure the normal anarch- 
ist discourse. After Post-anarchism is an attempt to 
latch back onto the displaced mediator and explore 
its potential in the emerging stasis of post- anarchist 
theory. The new terrain is defined by a certain rec- 
onciliation between what currently counts as post- 
anarchism, particularly in the Anglophone academic 
scene, and what counts as traditional anarchism. 
After post-anarchism the marriage and along with it 
both sides of the debate are displaced to make room 
for something new. I have no pretensions about this 
'something new': it will become clear that what I call 
new is nothing other than the exposition of a shared 
alliance, secret as it may once have been, between 
what currently counts as post-anarchism and what 
today is understood as ontology. 

The coming displacement can be summed up in 
the joke about the philosophy professor who recently 
got married. The professor was confronted by one 
of his students: ‘Professor!, I need to tell you some- 
thing immediately!’ The professor paused, looked at 
his wife for a moment, and then responded to the 


student: ‘Wait a moment, before we go any further I 
want to make sure that what you are going to tell me 
is worth my time.’ He continued: ‘Will your message 
refer to a moment of truth?’ The student replied 
without waiting a moment: ‘No, not exactly.’ To 
which the professor posed another question: Will 
your message refer to something good?’ The student 
bit his teeth down onto his bottom lip and then re- 
plied: ‘Not at all.’ The professor asked a final ques- 
tion: ‘Can your message be put to productive use?’ 
The student answered, ‘Not immediately; perhaps it 
will even be destructive.’ The professor stopped for 
a moment to think. Dissatisfied by the student’s re- 
sponses and by his own inability to frame what the 
student might then want to say to him, he grabbed 
his wife by the arm and then marched off into the 
university to prepare his next peer-reviewed article. 
As the professor walked off he yelled out to the stu- 
dent, ‘I do not want to hear any of it!’ This explains 
why professors rarely understand the potential of a 
revolutionary philosophy. It also explains why the 
professor did not know that his student was having 
sex with his wife. 

Cunning students of traditional philosophy 
have been quick to ask: ‘So, what comes after post- 
anarchist philosophy?’ The answer, which of course 
they already know, comes: ‘It is j» 05 tf-post- anarchist 
philosophy!’ This has been the most naive way to 


attack post-anarchism. But we ought to take it more 
seriously than they do; the laughter we express 
over post -post- anarchism might very well be an 
expression of our inability to come to terms with 
the possibility that post-anarchism might not be 
enough. Post-post-anarchism is a joke because it 
disembodies us — traditionalists and post-anarchists 
alike. It exposes us to the possibility that there 
might still be something else out there. The problem 
with post- anarchism today is not one of exclusive 
disjunction — of either traditional anarchism or 
post-anarchism — but precisely their conjunction 
or marriage: anarchism and post-anarchism. In 
this conjunction we have failed to recognize the 
next operation: the discovery of the superset that 
displaces the conjunction against an emergent set. In 
other words, in the marriage of anarchism and post- 
anarchism, we have failed to see that the emerging 
students of political philosophy have been fucking 
our wives. 

This book was written over the course of a 
couple months during the summer of 2009. I 
have only recently encountered an emergent body 
of thought known as speculative realism. It is 
now clear to me that speculative realism is grap- 
pling with many of the same problems that I have 
broached in this book. For the sake of introducing 
the problem early, I shall borrow the phraseology of 


the object oriented ontologist Levi Bryant: what we 
are dealing with in the eventual displacement of the 
current marriage is the problem of the hegemony of 
epistemology. To put matters even more simply, I 
will state immediately that this is the problem that 
post-anarchists face in the third decade of the de- 
velopment of its theory. 

Admittedly, a great deal of what follows stems 
from an early and premature attempt to formulate 
a response to criticisms of post- anarchism. What I 
discovered was that the criticisms of post-anarch- 
ism paralleled the informal fallacy outlined by Freud 
in his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. 
A neighbour borrows a kettle and returns it dam- 
aged. The neighbour constructs three defences: first, 
that he returned the kettle undamaged; second, 
that it was already damaged when he borrowed it, 
and; third, that he never borrowed the kettle in the 
first place. These criticisms reflected the very same 
concerns that traditional anarchists initially raised 
against post-anarchism: they were mostly criticizing 
in post-anarchism what post- anarchism was criti- 
cizing in classical anarchism, namely the political 
strategy of reductionism and/or essentialism. They 
argued that: first, post-anarchism represented an at- 
tempt to abandon classical or traditional anarchism; 
second, post- anarchism represented an attempted 
to rescue classical or traditional anarchism from its 


own demise, and; third, anarchism was always post- 
anarchist. Traditionalists re -signify their rejection of 
post- anarchism so that the fantasies grounding the 
classical tradition can be sustained. My response to 
these critiques inadvertently lead me to a re-reading 
of post- anarchism that took its critics' claims more 
seriously than they may have intended them to be 
read. If there were critics of post- anarchism on the 
side of traditional anarchism then there ought to be 
critics of post- anarchism on the side of -post- 
anarchism too. 

For two decades post-anarchism has adopted 
an epistemological point of departure for its critique 
of the representative ontologies of classical anarch- 
ism. This critique focused on the classical anarchist 
conceptualization of power as a unitary phenomen- 
on that operated uni directionally to repress an other- 
wise creative and benign human essence. Andrew 
Koch may have inaugurated this trend in the early 
1990s when he wrote his widely influential paper 
“Post- structuralism and the Epistemological Basis of 
Anarchism.” Koch’s paper certainly laid some of the 
important groundwork for post-anarchism’s contin- 
ual subsumption of ontology beneath the a -priori of 
an epistemological ohentation. His work continues 
to be cited as an early and important venture into 
post-anarchist political philosophy. The problem is 
that Koch could not conceive of an anti-essentialist 


and autonomous ontological system, one not subject 
to regulation or representation by the human mind. 
Consequently, he was forced to assert a subjectiv- 
ist claims-making ego as the foundation of a post- 
structuralist anarchist politics. 

Saul Newman was indebted to this heritage 
insofar as he also posited the ego (extrapolated 
from the writings of Max Stimer) and the subject 
(extrapolated from Jacques Lacan’s oeuvre) as the 
paradoxical ‘outside’ to power and representation. 
Todd May fell into a similar trap in his book The 
Political Philosophy of Post-structuralist Anarch- 
ism when he wrote that “[mjetaphysics [...] partakes 
of the normativity inhabiting the epistemology that 
provides its foundations” (May, 1997: 2). New- 
man’s approach did not necessarily foreclose the 
possibility of a metaphysics, at least to the extent 
that he began with the subject of the Lacanian trad- 
ition (wherein the subject is believed to be radically 
barred from das Ding). On the other hand, May 
completely foreclosed the possibility of any escape 
from the reign of the epistemological. There laid the 
impasse of yesterday’s post- anarchism. This im- 
passe at the heart of the project of post-anarchism 
has forced Koch, Newman, May, and many others, 
to come to similar conclusions about the place of 
ontology in post-anarchist theory. The post-anarch- 
ists have all formulated a response strikingly similar 


to Koch’s argument that any representative ontol- 
ogy ought to be dismantled and dethroned in favour 
of “a conceptualization of knowledge that is contin- 
gent on a plurality of internally consistent episteme ” 
(Koch, 2011: 27). 

As a point of connection, Walter Benjamin was 
known to have failed to defend his Habilitations- 
schrift on the Origin of the German Mourning-Play 
for his PhD examination. Having failed the exam as 
best he could, the study nonetheless became widely 
published and influential. For my own PhD examina- 
tion I also felt destined for failure: I was to defend 
a written examination on Walter Benjamin’s Berlin 
Childhood that demonstrated my ability to parrot in- 
formation back to my examiners. I thought it much 
better to fail the exam as best I could than to succeed 
through the worst possible circumstances. But here 
I maintain that post-anarchism had to fail in order 
for it to have been effective. If post- anarchism had 
not provided its naive reductive account of the clas- 
sical anarchist tradition, it would not have been able 
to make enough enemies to separate itself as a sect 
and as a theory of the new. To put it another way: it 
is only after the failure of the fundamental fantasy 
that the traversal of the fantasy can occur. Or, to re- 
phrase an old Shakespearean cliche, why is it better 
to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? 
Precisely because in the most successful failure of 


love, one is able to pass on to the crucial next stage 
of learning from one’s mistakes. The post-anarch- 
ists needed to begin by sketching out a naive critique 
of the ontological essentialism of some monolithic 
'classical' anarchist tradition — I claim that we can fail 
much better. 

An old joke reads: a lecturer asked his student: 
‘What, since every answer of yours is wrong, do 
you expect to be when you grow up?’ The student 
responded: ‘I expect to be a TV weather forecaster 
after graduation!’ Today the traditional and post- 
anarchists might ask us: ‘what, since every answer 
to the question of ontology has been wrong, do you 
expect to do after post-anarchism?’ As good post- 
anarchists we ought to answer our interlocutors as 
follows: ‘I expect to be a speculative philosopher 
after the coming displacement!’ This is precisely 
the problem that we are up against: by dismissing 
all ontologies as suspiciously representative and 
as incessantly harbouring a dangerous form of 
essentialism, post-anarchists have overlooked the 
privilege that they have placed on the human subject, 
language, and discourse. Here, the ontological 
question is itself elided into the epistemological 
register. The epistemological characterization of post- 
anarchism has held sway for far too long. Perhaps it is 
time to revive the roots of post-anarchism — after all, 
Hakim Bey’s ‘post-anarchism anarchy’ was itself an 


ontological philosophy. 

Ontology must now be distinguished from 
representation. The correlation between thinking 
and being, between mind and thing, is only one of 
the possible ways of theorizing about meta-ethics. 
One may also consider the mutual exclusivity of 
thought and being, mind and thing, insofar as the 
one is progressively lost as the other is progressively 
gained. We must shift the terms of the debate and 
interrogate the hegemony that epistemology has 
been afforded within post- anarchist philosophy. At 
least two possibilities are now permitted. On the one 
hand, we could intervene into the reigning mode of 
philosophy, namely epistemology, by latching onto 
concepts from meta- ethical philosophy. Meta-ethics 
allows one to easily separate the ontological from the 
epistemological and to answer very particular ques- 
tions about each in order to formulate an overarch- 
ing meta-ethical position. What meta-ethics does 
through an analytical gesture we might do through a 
critical gesture. Retroactively, I shall insist that this 
was what I attempted to do with this book. Post- 
anarchism is particularly adept at this task because 
of its resounding ability to frame itself as an ethical 
political philosophy as against the strategic political 
philosophy of classical Marxism. On the other hand, 
the best way to defeat the privilege of epistemologic- 
al anarchism is to shift the terms of the debate — this 


is also something that post- anarchists have already 
proved themselves quite good at doing. Instead of 
ashing the question ‘how do representative onto- 
logical systems harbour concealed epistemological 
orientations toward the political?’, one might ash, 
‘ do epistemological orientations toward the political 
always harbour representative and subject- centred 
ontological systems?’ 

The fallacy of strategic political philosophy in 
the Marxist tradition is, as Todd May quite correctly 
points out, that it remains committed to a concept 
of power that is unitary in its analysis, unidirectional 
in its influence, and utterly repressive in its effect. 
Similarly, Levi Bryant’s ontology allows one to argue 
that there is a fallacy that occurs “whenever one 
type of entity is treated as the ground or explains 
all other entities” (italics in original). Whereas 
May’s post-structuralist anarchism moved away 
from the fallacy of the unitary analysis of power 
(whereby subjects are constituted by the influence 
of a single site of power), it nonetheless remained 
committed to a tactical political philosophy that 
is monarchical in the final analysis. It remains 
monarchical to the extent that the human world, 
the world of epistemology, is treated as the yardstick 
of democracy, and no room is afforded for the 
things of the world to influence politics. Bryant’s 
argument is quite instructive: “[wjhat we thus get 


is not a democracy of objects or actants where all 
objects are on equal ontological footing [...] but 
instead a monarchy of the human in relation to all 
other beings” (italics in original). The real fallacy 
is thus not against strategic political philosophy 
but philosophy itself and the way it has played out 
over so many centuries. “The epistemic fallacy,” 
writes Bryant, “consists in the thesis that proper 
ontological questions can be fully transposed into 
epistemological questions.” 

We can now distinguish three stages in the 
life of post-anarchism. First, we can deduce what 
Siireyyya Evren has described as its introductory 
period. The introductory period of post-anarchism 
is defined by its inability to side-step the ontological 
problem in the literature of classical anarchism. 
During this period, post-anarchism needed to 
distinguish itself from classical anarchism while 
nonetheless remaining committed to its ethical 
project. The second period overcomes the problem 
of the separation of post- anarchism from classical 
anarchism by re-reading the classical tradition as 
essentially post-anarchistic. Some of the critiques 
of post-anarchism are included into this period 
insofar as post-anarchism, for them, was always 
already anarchism. Whereas the first and second 
phases included only explicitly anarchist literature 
under their rubric of worthwhile investigation, in the 


third period this no longer holds true. To be certain, 
the second period permitted the incorporation of 
post-structuralist literature into post-anarchist 
discussions, but always with a certain amount of 
reservation. The third period, the one that is to 
come — the one that is already here if only we would 
heed its call — will not take such care with attempts 
at identification or canonization. An after to post- 
anarchism is no joke, it is already here, like a seed 
beneath the snow, waiting to be discovered. 


The Sacrifice of Knowing 

Held at gun-point by a mugger, you have one 
of two choices: your money oryourlife. The obvious 
twist is that if you depart from your life you would 
also by consequence depart from your money. This 
choice that is not a choice describes perfectly the 
dilemma of subjectivity: your knowledge or your 
being. If you depart from your being you also by 
consequence depart from your knowing. Why must 
political philosophy begin with the subject who 
incessantly thinks himself into existence when we 
know very well that this is the choice that we make 
to preserve our life? In order to retain some sense 
of being we are forced into the choice of knowledge 
and thus, as a consequence, we lose some of our 
existence in the process. Rephrasing our choice: 
either I am not thinking or I am not being. The 
forced choice is the basis of subjectivity insofar 
as one can never step outside of epistemology 
without being reduced to a thing in the real. It is the 
forced choice of epistemology over ontology that 
post- anarchism must overcome. To be sure, this 
is a difficult task — one that requires a paradoxical 
solution. A traversal of the fantasy of knowing our 
being thus requires that one take responsibility for 
the being or thing that works upon our knowledge. 
Post-anarchism and traditional anarchism have 


a long distance to travel to traverse the fantasy of 
choice. Let us hazard a beginning. 

Post-anarchism has been of considerable im- 
portance in the discussions of radical intellectuals 
across the globe over the last decade. In its most 
popular form, it demonstrates a desire to blend 
the most promising aspects of traditional anarch- 
ist theory (particularly, its ethical a -priori) with de- 
velopments in post-structuralist and post-modem 
thought. Post-anarchists have hitherto relied on 
post- structuralist critiques of ontological essential- 
ism in order to situate their discourse in relation to 
the traditional anarchist discourse. My argument is 
that (post)anarchist ethics requires the elaboration of 
another important line of critique against epistemo- 
logical foundationalism. To accomplish this task, I 
turn to the philosophy of Georges Bataille. Bataille’s 
philosophy allows for new ways of conceiving post- 
anarchist ethics that are not predicated upon essen- 
tialist categories, foundationalist truth-claims, or the 
agency of the subject in the political context. 

If I am to make the case for post-anarchist 
ethics, I must first of all provide the reader with 
the conceptual framework upon which this essay 
has been constructed. As such, what follows is the 
result of an attempt at formulating a response to 
this task which has been set before me. The astute 
reader will take notice that there are a few incongru- 


ities relating to the classification systems developed 
herein, but these classificatory issues should not in 
the end distract the reader from the overall point 
being made. It is not for the purpose of utility or 
for the gratification of constructing or defending a 
sound theory of the subject in society that I develop 
these foundations but rather, and precisely, for the 
purpose of demonstrating the problem set before 
me. It is the problem of all positive conceptions of 
foundation and system — in a word, I am speaking 
about the problem of essence — and the relationship 
of each of these conceptions to a curious body of 
thought, anarchism, that I wish to explore. Foun- 
dations harbour the full range of possibilities inher- 
ent to the questions posed by ontological philoso- 
phy, and, similarly, systems harbour the full range 
of possibilities inherent to the questions posed by 
epistemological philosophy. Foundations and sys- 
tems are always fraught with disastrous instability 
and this thereby necessitates philosophers to pro- 
duce elaborations on the accidental (what I also call 
negative elaborations) as well as the essential (what 
I also call positive elaborations). 

For the purposes of this essay, essence and ac- 
cident should be understood as attributes founded 
within the inextricable connection between issues 
concerning ontological and epistemological phil- 
osophy and within the overarching study of meta- 


ethics. The relationship within and between these 
two domains is also constitutive of the subject. The 
within relationship describes positive and nega- 
tive attributes of the corresponding domain. For 
example, we may begin from an essential under- 
standing of being or else we may begin from an 
accidental understanding of being as non-being. 
Likewise, we may begin from an essential under- 
standing of knowing or else we may begin from an 
accidental understanding of knowing as non-know- 
ing. The between relationship describes two matri- 
ces: on the one band, there is a constitutive rela- 
tionship between epistemological and ontological 
claims that describes the being who thinks herself 
into existence (an essential discourse), and, on the 
other hand, there is the non-being whose exist- 
ence becomes acquired through reductions in use- 
ful thought (an accidental discourse). I must now 
bring these two contingent relationships to point: 
my assumption is that essentialism is a meta-eth- 
ical position, it is perhaps £Aemeta- ethical position 
that has most come under attack from radical phil- 
osophers in the contemporary period. As a point of 
example, I put my tickets in a hat and drew Sartre’s 
name: Sartre argued that the two domains (being 
and knowing) are as far apart as the poles, u [t]he 
essence is not in the object; itis the meaning of the 
object [...] The object does not refer to being as to 


a signification; it would be impossible, for example, 
to define being as a presence since absence too dis- 
closes being, since not to be there means still to be” 
(italics in original; Sartre, [1943] 1993: 8). Sartre’s 
provocation was an elaboration of this full range of 
attributes inherent to the meta-ethics — it is just as 
likely that the object’s absence (or accidental fea- 
tures) discloses a truth as does its presence (or es- 
sential features). In this way, we may also speak of 
the subject through the full range of attributes. We 
may do this under the assumption that the sub- 
ject is nothing but this object among objects, thing 
among things, who pretends at being something far 
superior to these things. The subject is thus this in- 
ability to consolidate its truth with its being a thing. 

It is in this regard, I set before me the task of 
rewriting the foundation of traditional anarchist 
conceptions of being; a task that will, as a necessity, 
remain an unfinished failure. The problem of 
successfully finalizing this project is also the problem 
of creating a knowledgeable account of being. Who 
among us has not had the opportunity to solve the 
Chinese finger trap? If you try too hard to get yourself 
out of the trap you end up even further trapped. The 
task is a delicate one and must be likened to the 
oft-cited aphorism on the delicacy of relationships: 
‘relationships are a bit like holding sand in the grip 
of your hand: if you grip it too tight, the sand trickles 


out — but hold the sand loosely, and it remains in 
place.’ The paradox is thus that, as Sartre has put it, 
“ [b]y not consi dering being [...] as an appearance which 
can be determined in concepts, we have understood 
first of all that knowledge can not by itself give an 
account of being” (Sartre, [1943] 1993: 9). Perhaps 
we must begin to approach the truth of the being of 
the subject with the same delicacy that one solves the 
problem of the Chinese finger trap. 

The success of this project would invite the 
appearance of the essential subject and foreclose 
the subject as constitutive of an absence as well. 
Be this as it may, in writing about the absence 
I nonetheless construct an appearance in place 
of it which occurs as a betrayal of the source. In 
constructing a framework of knowledge about the 
anarchist subject I only move further away from 
that which I seek to describe. As we shall see, there 
is a lineage of philosophers in the continental 
tradition whose ideas have converged on this point. 
For now it will be enough to claim that in the texts 
of prominent classical philosophers, the study of 
ontology and epistemology often went hand in hand 
as two parts of the same enterprise (cf., Silverman, 
2008). And, in the development of a meta-ethical 
framework, so shall it here. Meta-ethics occurs quite 
fundamentally at the intersection of epistemological 
and ontological philosophy. (Is this not the same 


intersection that occurs between Marxism and 
Anarchism, Economy and State, and so on?) 

Unbeknownst to the reader until now: I write 
this in direct opposition to my overall intention. I 
write this while shamefaced. In writing about this 
topic — the subject of anarchist philosophy amidst 
the recent development of a system of ideas in post- 
anarchist political philosophy — I remain trapped 
within the world of useful knowledge. For Georges 
Bataille, all knowledge or positive epistemological 
systems operate within the restrictive economies 
of utility (Goldhammer, 2005: 154): “[t]he small- 
est activity, or the least project puts an end to the 
game [...] and I am [...] brought back into the prison 
of useful objects, loaded with meaning” (Bataille, 
2001: 98). The problem of writing the knowledge 
of being, as with the problem of the least project, is 
the problem of the erasure of the accidental by the 
appearance of the essence. And yet is this not also 
the very problem of being: to speak of the freedom 
of non-knowledge from the position of the knowing 
subject? Inevitably, there is a certain passion in this 
slavery to knowledge, a certain joyful sacrifice of 
being of which Georges Bataille was keenly aware: 
“Living in order to be able to die, suffering to enjoy, 
enjoying to suffer, speaking to say nothing [...] the 
passion for not knowing” (Bataille, 2001: 196). 
Like Bataille’s oeuvre, my work springs out of great 


reluctance and mental anguish, and yet it does not 
as a consequence dispense with the enjoyment of 
writing or with the enjoyment of sacrifice. One can 
sacrifice a great many things in life but in doing so 
one does not sacrifice the experience of the sacred. 
On the contrary, it is through sacrifice that one is 
able to engage in this experience and to thereby 
celebrate ethical life. According to Bataille, sacrifice 
of oneself brings the subject into view as an ethical 
agent. Sacrifice was Bataille’s answer to the eth- 
ical problem of meta-ethical nihilism; whereby we 
understand that there are ethics of the first order 
and there are meta- ethics or ethics of the second 
order. One may describe a nihilist meta-ethical pos- 
ition but this does not mean that one ceases to act 
positively in the world. It means, contrarily, that 
one shall be willing to sacrifice oneself to the posi- 
tive. It means that she understands that the positive 
springs forth from within the domain of the nega- 
tive. It means that ethical acts are never coded into 
the commandments of the symbolic order, or lan- 
guage. I shall speak to this point in more detail in 
the sections that follow. 

If the reader takes no interest in this text then 
I can say that I have at the very least grounded my 
intellectual affairs on the achievement of a sense of 
mastery over these foundations and systems — those 
desires first working forth from within this text and 


then radiating outward (conceptual sys-tems, de- 
notative, descriptive and prescriptive pro -positions, 
and so on) but also those passions of the univer- 
sity that first work forth from without the text and 
then burrow their way inside of it (the thirst for 
knowledge , 1 competing ideological interests, and so 
on) — that have inhabited my desires and ostensibly 
inhibited my creative capacities. The truly astute 
reader should therefore take notice that the classifi- 
cation systems that I have constructed are as faulty 
as the positive foundations and systems of countless 
other philosophies, and the governments upon which 
they are built, as well as, as it were, the great tradition 
upon which I have erected my black flag; all of the 
great foundations and systems are destined to failure. 
The desire of the university is to make the subject 
contribute to the system of useful knowledge and 
this outlines those foreign desires that Jacques Lacan 
named University Discourse. Bruce Fink eloquently 
described what is at issue in University Discourse: 
“knowledge replaces the nonsensical master signifier 
in the dominant, commanding position [...] system- 
atic knowledge is the ultimate authority, reigning in 
the stead of blind will, and everything has its reason 

1 For example, it is the foremost duty of the sociology graduate student 

at the University of New Brunswick to make “an original contribution to 
knowledge” (University of New Brunswick, 2010: 5). 


[...] the university discourse providing a sort of legit- 
imation of rationalization of the master’s will” (Fink, 
1995: 132). Having not realized the benefit of con- 
tributing to what Bataille has called the unfinished 
system of non-knowledge (cf., Bataille, 2001), the 
subject of University Discourse suffers by tirelessly 
producing useful knowledge for the academy, 2 she 
thereby alienates herself from the product of her 
wasted efforts: “[t]he product or loss here is the div- 
ided, alienated subject. Since the agent in the univer- 
sity discourse is the knowing subject, the unknowing 
subject or subject of the unconscious is produced, 
but at the same time excluded” (Fink, 1995: 132). 
Thus, the mastery that I have obtained always also 
comes at the price of losing myself to the passions of 
self -negation through sacrifice. It is therefore with a 
sense of irony that I insist at the outset that this es- 
say is for those of us whose hearts continue to be set 
ablaze by the fiery desires that endlessly consume us. 

2 The question may be raised as to what extent the development of 
a non-system of non-knowledge, a radical system, within the academy 
itself succumbs to the discourse of the university. Zizek has argued 
that “one should always bear in mind that, for Lacan, [the] university 
discourse is not directly linked to the university as a social institution 
[...] Consequently, not only does the fact of being turned into an object 
of the university interpretive machinery prove nothing about ones 
discursive status — names like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or Benjamin, all 
three great anti-universitarians whose presence in the academy today 
[is] all pervasive — demonstrate that the excluded or damned authors are 
the ideal feeding stuff for the academic machine” (Zizek, 1997). 


My contribution does take on the appearance 
of utility. My aim in this thesis is to demonstrate the 
compatibility of post-anarchism with the latent eth- 
ical project of traditional anarchist philosophy while 
advancing still beyond this threshold by bringing 
post- anarchism into contact with another outside 
force, the irrecuperable work of Georges Bataille. In 
doing so, I plan to use this detour to locate tradition- 
al anarchism’s dormant core, its innermost ethical 
kernel. I believe that the proper ethical attitude here 
is not to retreat from University Discourse and all of 
its problems, nor is it to disavow its problems, but 
rather it is to speak through University Discourse 
properly. Apropos of this thesis I am reminded of 
an infamous joke about a study on the function 
of the head of the penis. Three results came from 
the study. First, after one year of research and over 
two-hundred thousand dollars spent, Duke Univer- 
sity found that the head of the penis is much larger 
than the shaft because it provides more pleasure for 
the man. Stanford University later concluded, after 
three years of study, and over two-hundred and fifty 
thousand dollars, that the function of the head was 
to provide more pleasure to the other during sexual 
intercourse. Finally, the University of Wisconsin, a 
more honest university, spent thirteen dollars and 
found that the function of the head of the penis is to 
keep the man’s hand from slipping off of the shaft 


during masturbation. Here we have three responses 
to University Discourse: a selfish enjoyment, a self- 
less enjoyment, and a response that has nothing to 
do with enjoyment at all. The final response sabo- 
tages the university discourse from within. It is not 
for the satisfaction of myself that I write this essay. 
This would be a naive assumption because it pre- 
tends that the desire of the university does not speak 
through me. Second, I ought not to maintain openly 
that I write this for the other, for the university, be- 
cause that would only be an admission of privilege 
and just as naive as the first response. In claiming 
that I am a product of the university, a product of 
privilege, I erase my capacity to make any claim un- 
tarnished by the academy. Rather, I must take re- 
sponsibility for my writing as university discourse by 
using this research to keep my hand from flying off 
of my shaft as I masturbate wildly — the university 
provides me with the best possible location from 
which to mount my study, it structures my desire 
for which I take complete responsibility. 

It is my hope that this j oumey will bring about a 
renewed interest and understanding in the negative 
foundation and system of the tradition that guides 
all of my writing. My aim in pursuing this line of in- 
quiry is to elucidate the nihilist core (from the latin 
nihil meaning nothing or no-thing) that has here- 
tofore animated fragments of the anarchist tradition. 


This is its accidental core which, as with the sub- 
ject in Stimerian or Lacanian philosophy, has been 
its distinctive but largely unrealized ontology. Thus, 
there are, as it were, two anarchist traditions that 
have unfolded in tandem. On the one hand, there is 
the manifestation of a tradition that opposes what 
Bataille enthusiasts have described as restrictive 
states (ie, nation-states) and restrictive economies 
(global capitalism); however, in this manifest trad- 
ition, states and economies are limited to a positive 
interpretation: state refers to a sovereign political 
foundation and embodies a set of commandments 
or laws, and economy refers to a system of exchange 
and the valuation of this exchange within and be- 
tween labourers (as in classical Marxian economies). 
On the other hand, there is the irrecuperable force 
that answers negatively to questions concerning 
ontological and epistemological philosophy and de- 
scribes the base states and economies that provide 
substance to their restrictive counterparts. Readers 
acquainted with Hakim Bey’s ‘ontological anarch- 
ism’ (cf, Bey, 1993) will be familiar with what it is 
that I am suggesting. Bey defined ‘ontological an- 
archism’ as the philosophy of a general force — Ba- 
taille likewise produced a philosophy of the general 
economy — which is always founded onno-thing: 

As we meditate on the nothing we 

notice that although it cannot be de- 


fined, nevertheless paradoxically we 
can say something about it (even if 
only metaphorically): it appears to be 
a ‘chaos’ [...] chaos lies at the heart of 
our project. [...] chaos-as-excess, the 
generous outpouring of nothing into 
something. [...] Anarchists have been 
claiming for years that ‘anarchy is 
not chaos.’ Even anarchism seems to 
want a natural law, an inner and in- 
nate morality in matter, an entelechy, 
or purpose -of-being (Bey, 1993). 

The general state is quite simply no-thing. 
It becomes obvious that although the general 
state can not be de-fined, nevertheless I can say 
something about it. What I can say is that it does 
not occur within a restrictive apparatus of language 
and knowledge. It is ostensibly captured by these 
restrictive apparatuses, but in actuality it is not at all 
captured. It passes like lightning through metaphor. 

Post-anarchism has also occurred like a flash 
of lightning. I shall argue that post- anarchism has 
commonly been associated with one of two trends 
over the last two decades. First, and most popularly, 
it has referred to the extension of traditional 
anarchist philosophy by way of interventions 


into and from post-structuralism and/or post- 
modern philosophy. Second, and most prevalent 
in the non-Anglophone world, post-anarchism 
has been understood as an attempt to explore 
new connections between traditional anarchist 
philosophy and non-anarchist radical philosophy 
without thereby reducing these explorations to 
developments from any particular philosophical 
group. In this regard, Anton Fernandez de Rota has 
described post-anarchism as: 

[bjeing in-between, with one foot in 
the dying world and the other in the 
world that is coming. It should not 
be understood as a mere conjunction 
of anarchism plus post-structuralism 
alone, no matter how much it drinks 
from both foundations. Rather, it is a 
flag around which to express the de- 
sire to transcend the old casts (Anton 
Fernandez de Rota as cited in Rous- 
selle &Evren, 2011: 147). 

My belief is that post- anarchism, as a discursive 
strategy that has gone to great lengths to rethink 
traditional anarchism from outside of its narrow 
confines in political economy (or any restrictive 
philosophy) and canonical thinkers (ie, Proudhon, 
Bakunin, Kropotkin), has provided a moment in 


which to reflect on anarchism’s unique place in an 
assemblage of competing political language games. 
Post-anarchism is the realization of traditional 
anarchist meta-ethics, it is anarchist meta-ethics, 
but it is an incomplete project insofar as it has 
focused only on the epistemological dimension of 
meta- ethics. 

I argue that meta-ethics is predicated upon 
the relationship between answers to questions 
of ontological and epistemological philosophy. 
Moreover, I argue that the dominant position within 
contemporary meta-ethics is avowedly nihilist and 
that this nihilism finds its political equivalent in 
traditional anarchist philosophy. Given this, there 
are reasons to believe that contemporary meta- 
ethical philosophers might benefit from readings 
in traditional anarchist philosophy, and there are 
reasons to believe that anarchist philosophers might 
benefit from readings in meta- ethics. Two variants of 
nihilism appear within the literature: one that retains 
the subject as a metaphysical possibility and one that 
rejects the subject as an inadequate framework for 
conceiving the base reality of anarchy. In this sense, 
it makes little difference whether one adopts ethical 
universalism or ethical relativism because each 
position appears to be a conflation of the centralissues 
of the ethics of base reality. The crucial distinction 
is whether or not this base reality is best conceived 


from within the confines of the metaphysical subject. 
While I aim to provide the case that we ought to 
think politics outside of the metaphysical subject, I 
ultimately remain undecided on this choice. Instead, I 
trace two meta-ethical pathways for the reader: what 
I call (1) base subjectivism, and (2) base materialism. 
I argue that the base subjectivist response to meta- 
ethics is easily conceived through a latent reading 
of the anarchist tradition and that to take this 
negation of conventional ethics to the end requires 
an intervention from the work of Georges Bataille. 

Next, I situate post-anarchism as a unique pol- 
itical discourse that occurs among an assemblage of 
other (often contradictory) political discourses in or- 
der to introduce the meta-ethics upon which it has 
been grounded. I claim that post-anarchism is at 
once the outgrowth of ‘new anarchism’ and yet also 
its limit. For this reason post- anarchism can not be 
reduced to the problems associated with its introduc- 
tory phase, including, for example, the problem of 
the reduction of classical anarchism. Instead, post- 
anarchism occurs as the realization of the latent 
meta-ethical discourse that has always been buried 
beneath manifest traditional anarchist philosophy. 
Post-anarchism is what is in anarchism more than 
anarchism. Post- anarchism offers traditional an- 
archism the opportunity to finally make a beginning 
at failure. In this regard, it appears as though Petr 


Kropotkin’s ethical philosophy has heretofore pro- 
vided the point-de-capiton of traditional anarchist 
ethics and so it should prove worthy to reread Kro- 
potkin’s ethical system from the standpoint of post- 
anarchist though. As we shall see, it is possible to 
move beyond Kropotkin’s naturalist/humanist eth- 
ics by either rejecting it entirely or else founding a 
post-Kropotkinian terrain upon which to rebuild the 
traditional discourse. This latter strategy involves 
carefully selecting which segments of the Kropot- 
kinian discourse to highlight against other (contra- 
dictory) segments. I also revisit two strange anarchist 
meta-ethical systems, virtue ethics and utilitarian- 
ism, to arrive at an elaboration of the main trends in 
post- anarchist political philosophy. 

Finally, I explore Bataille’s base material- 
ist meta-ethics. I argue that Bataille’s meta-ethics 
answered negatively to the questions of ontological 
and epistemological philosophy and thereby brought 
the anti-authoritarian ethic to its fullest realization. 
Thus, Bataille’s philosophy exposed an underside to 
the foundation and system of conventional political 
and social philosophy: he described a foundation 
fraught with instability and a system that aimed only 
toward failure. He exposed the negative dimension 
of all philosophical works (and the concrete social 
practices and institutions founded upon them) as in- 
herently unstable and predicated upon a fundamen- 


tal failure. He further highlighted the methodology 
that guides this thesis which is best summarized by 
the following passage: “You must know, first of all, 
that everything that has a manifest side also has a 
hidden side. Your face is quite noble, there’s a truth 
in your eyes with which you grasp the world, but 
your hairy parts underneath your dress are no less a 
truth than your mouth is” (Bataille, 1997). It is this 
latent truth that hides forever beneath the fabric of 
concrete socio-political existence (and also beneath 
the apparent discourses interpreted by hermeneut- 
ics) that provides the impetus for manifest socio- 
political engagement. It is therefore a misreading of 
Bataille to focus on that which was intended merely 
as a metaphor of the Real (ie the potlatch, the gift, 
and so on). For Bataille, metaphor is the fabric that 
reveals base reality but it occurs only through the 
act and not as a consequence of its concrete mani- 
festation. Benjamin Noys argued that “ The Accursed 
Share [and other texts written by Bataille are] at 
[their] most disappointing in [their] concrete political 
proposals” (Noys, 2000: 1 13). I argue that to miss 
this latent reading, expressed in various ways also 
within the manifest content of Bataille’s own writing, 
is to miss the crucial opportunity of the latent read- 
ing of the anarchist tradition. It is to further hinder 
the reader’s ability to conceive of that unique state 
of individual freedom that Bataille has referred to as 


sovereignty. “Sovereignty is NOTHING” (Bataille, 
1993: 256). Noys writes: 

The movement onward would be the 
movement of sovereignty as NOTH- 
ING, and of sovereignty as that which 
refuses to settle within subjectivity [...] 
but while sovereignty is NOTHING it is 
also a ‘nothing’ that displaces the philo- 
sophical model of the subject [...] sover- 
eignty is NOTHING, a nothing that is 
a slipping away of the subject [...] it re- 
veals the unstable status of the subject 
(Noys, 2000: 74-5). 

Sovereignty, as the subjectivity of no-thing, 
is the release of the subject from the chains of 
knowing: it is the sacrifice of knowing. 


The Unstable Framework 
of Meta-Ethics 

There can be said to exist two orders of ethics: 
those of the first order (normative ethics) and those 
of the second order (meta-ethics). It will prove 
important to distinguish between these orders. 
On this topic John Mackie, the oft- quoted moral 
skeptic, has provided what is perhaps the most lucid 
explanation: “In our ordinary experience we first 
encounter first order statements about particular 
actions; in discussing these, we may go on to frame, 
or dispute, more general first order principles; and 
only after that are we likely to reflect on second order 
issues” (Mackie, 1977: 9). We may say that ethics 
of the second order, while not entirely divorced from 
first order ethics, are defined by the development of 
a self-referential analysis of normativity. As Mackie 
has put it: 

One could be a second order moral sceptic 
without being a first order one, or again 
the other way around. A man could hold 
strong moral views, and indeed ones 
whose content was thoroughly conven- 
tional, while believing that they were sim- 
ply attitudes and policies with regard to 


conduct that he and other people held. 
Conversely, a man could reject all estab- 
lished morality while believing it to be an 
objective truth that it was evil or corrupt 
(Mackie, 1977: 16). 

Relatedly, Burgess has argued that “[tjhere is 
no reason why anethicists [moral skeptics] should 
not have personal ideals and standards without the 
intellectual baggage of moral belief that usually ac- 
companies them” (Burgess, 2007: 437). In this 
sense we may say, for example, that one might hold 
the meta-ethical position of nihilism and yet none- 
theless fall inline with manifest traditional anarchist 
normativity. Meta- ethics is the study of the latent 
ethical dimension inherent to any philosophical dis- 
course as well as the philosophical investigation of 
ethical discourse itself. The curious status of ethics 
of the second order, as opposed to normative eth- 
ics, has been that nihilist responses to meta-ethical 
questions have been commonplace but this nihilism 
has been veiled from the wider public — and, more 
narrowly, it has been veiled from radical social and 
political theorists — by an insular jargon. In this re- 
gard, Allen Wood has argued that “the questions 
raised by twentieth- century meta-ethics have ap- 
parently been radical, and the dominant position 
was even openly nihilist” (Wood, 1996: 221). 


the unstable framework 

Wood continued by arguing that the meta-ethic- 
al views of this later period have been “radical in 
that they [have] attempted to some degree directly 
to undermine our commitment to all moral values 
or to the moral point of view generally, typically by 
showing that such commitment is based on illu- 
sions about morality, regarded as psychological or 
social phenomenon” (Wood, 1996: 223). I shall 
for the purposes of this essay assume that Wood’s 
thesis is conect. It shall be my purpose to elaborate 
the status of these ethics in a sufficient way so as to 
build a foundation and system capable of describ- 
ing the meta- ethics of anarchism as the preoccupa- 
tion of contemporary meta-ethical discourse. In this 
sense, post- anarchism shall be conceived provision- 
ally as the meta-ethics of anarchist political philoso- 
phy rather than more narrowly as ‘anarchism plus 
post-structuralism.’ Post-anarchism, as a contem- 
porary meta-ethical discourse, elucidates the ethical 
discourse that hides at the core of traditional an- 
archist philosophy. 

The Problem of Place and 
Ontological Essentialism 

There have been two prominent areas of study 
within meta-ethical philosophy, the description of the 
relationship between each will prove important in de- 


scribing the negative foundation and system of post- 
anarchist meta-ethics. Allen Wood has expanded 
this concentration into a tripartite system: a meta- 
physical investigation into the nature of moral facts 
and properties, a semantic inquiry into the meaning 
of moral assertions, and an epistemological account 
of the nature of moral knowledge (cf., Wood, 1996: 
221). For the purposes of this essay I have collapsed 
elements of the semantic inquiry into the epistemo- 
logical account. In this sense, truth-claims are posi- 
tive propositions intended to be taken as the good 
and they can be distinguished from the philosophical 
preoccupations with the actual meaning or inten- 
tions of the claim (whereby, for example, academ- 
ics squabble over the meaning of the word ‘ought’ or 
‘must’ in varying statements; cf., Silk, 2010). 

The first area of meta- ethics has traditionally 
concerned the place from which ethical principles are 
said to emanate. From the mid-thirteenth century 
place was understood as any dimension of defined 
or indefinite extent. According to this understanding, 
place occupies the ontological spectrum of meta- 
ethical questioning and deals with issues concerning 
the nature and origin of ethical acts (ie, the ‘what?’ 
and ‘where?’ questions that have prompted the 
development of ethical substantialisms). Central to 
the preoccupation on place has been the lingering 
question about the social situatedness of the subject 


the unstable framework 

and the role of this context in the development of 
the subject’s ethics; 3 in this regard, ethics remains 
hinged to the never-ending debates surrounding 
structure and agency, free-will and determinism, and 
so on. Three substantial theories have responded to 
the question of place: (1) ethical universalism, (2) 
ethical relativism, and (3) ethical nihilism. 

Adherents of ethical universalism have posited 
that there is a shared objective essence that grounds 
all normative principles irrespective of the stated 
values of independently situated subjects or social 
groups. Many times, this essence has arrived as 
a consequence of the a 'priori assumption of a 
static and/or natural human nature. It should not 
go unnoticed that Todd May’s post-structuralist 
anarchist critique of classical anarchism constitutes 
a gross reduction of the classical anarchist response 
to the question of place. However, his critique does 
serve as a useful example of a strong tendency within 
traditional anarchist discourse toward humanist 

we can recognize that anarchism’s nat- 
uralist view of human beings plays an 

ethical role in its political theory [...] 

3 To provide one preliminary example: this has been the problem of 
place in theories from the Frankfurt school of Marxism, as Todd May has 
argued: “The problem is that if all of capitalist society has been co-opted, 
then there is no place from which critique [or, indeed, ethics] could arise” 
(May, 1994: 125). 


Moreover, the naturalist justification al- 
lows anarchists to assume their ethics 
rather than having to argue for them. 

If the human essence is already benign, 
then there is no need to articulate what 
kinds of human activity are good and 
what kinds are bad (May, 1994: 64). 

I shall soon return to this point. Essence has 
also arrived as a consequence of the presumed 
shared general conditions of a select universal social 
group relative to another universal social group as 
products of the unfolding of the telos of history 
(as in some readings of Marx), and/or tireless 
appropriations of traditional conceptions of morality, 
rationality, reason, and justice. In the latter case we 
might take Karl-Otto Apel’s and Jurgen Habermas’s 
discourse ethics as our example (in this regard, cf., 
Johri, 1996). My argument, in this respect, against 
discourse ethics is very similar to Todd May’s in The 
Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism 
(cf., 1994: 125-6) solwon’t bother to recast it here. 
Instead, I would like the reader to notice the nuance 
employed when describing foundation and system 
as opposed to life-world and system. May’s latent 
description of Habermas’s ethical space, the life- 
world, follows: “[t]he assumption of the ideal speech 
situation [as the foundation of the life-world] is part 


the unstable framework 

of Habermas’s attempt to wrest a critical space from 
capitalist co-optation” (ibid., 126; see also pages 
27-31). In other words, the life-world is Habermas’s 
response to the question of place. 

There is the further possibility of non- 
absolutist universalist ethics as in the case of 
ethical utilitarianism, a normative theory that 
proposes that the correct solution is the one that 
provides the greatest good to the majority of the 
population. However, within the domain of meta- 
ethics the meaning of the good has tended to shift 
depending on relative representations. This leads 
us to our second substantial theory: according to 
ethical relativists ethical truths emerge from within 
distinctive social groups or distinctive social subjects 
rather than equally and objectively across all groups. 
Relativists believe that social groups do indeed differ 
in their respective ethical value systems and that 
each respective system constitutes a place of ethical 
discourse. At the limit of relativist ethics is the belief 
that the unique subject is the place from which 
ethical principles are thought to arise. In this sense, 
subjectivism is the limit of ethical relativist discourse. 

Finally, ethical nihilism is the belief that ethical 
truths, if they can be said to exist at all, derive from 
the paradoxical non-place within the heart of any 
place. Saul Newman described this non-place 
in the following way: u [t]he place of power [and, 


consequently, resistance] is not a place [...] Power, 
as we have seen, does not reside in the state, or 
in the bourgeoisie, or in law: its very place is that 
of a ‘non-place’ because it is shifting and variable, 
always being re-inscribed and reinterpreted” (italics 
in original; Newman, [2001] 2007: 81). That 
this non-place can only be articulated from within 
the confines of conceptions of place, or in relation 
to the foundation of place itself, therefore poses 
a unique challenge for ethical philosophers: is 
the paradox of non-place significant enough as 
to lead one to reject its answer to the question of 
place? Traditionally, those philosophers who have 
adopted the paradoxical response to the question 
of place have had the burden of proof to create an 
account of their philosophical position that was 
a sufficient response to the community at large. 
However, the burden of proof argument is typically 
used against those making positive ontological 
arguments rather than those making negative or 
paradoxical arguments such as I am making here 
(cf. , Truzzi, 1976: 4). Nihilists seek to discredit 
and/or interrupt all universalist and relativist 
responses to the question of place and thus step 
outside of the burden of proof. Thus, when I speak 
about nihilism, I intend to describe meta-ethical 
discourses that refuse to settle within conventional 
manifest philosophy. Rather, nihilists are critics of 


the unstable framework 

all that currently exists and they raise this critique 
against all such one-sided foundations and systems. 

Saul Newman has described Max Stimer, whose 
work, according to rumours from some anarchists, 
inspired some of the writings of Nietzsche, 4 as the 
proto-typical post-anarchist. For Newman, the 
reason is simple: “Like poststructuralist thinkers 
who were writing over a century later, Stimer [was] 
troubled by the whole question of essentialism 
[...] It is for this reason that Stimer [...] anticipates 
[...] poststructuralism” (Newman, 2001: 55-6). 
Max Stimer’s critique of the death of god revolved 
around the paradox of place — Stimer argued that 
Feuerbach’s humanist philosophy did not kill the 
place of god but merely subsumed it beneath the 
mask of man (Cf., Newman, [2009]). In this way, a 
higher abstraction was created in place. Instead of 
the positive essentialist metaphysics of man, Stimer 
described accidental man using the concept of the 
‘creative nothing’ (or the ‘un-man’), he thereby 
described a uniquely identifiable variant of the 
subjectivist school of meta-ethics. 5 It is probably 

4 Some discussions about this topic that are happening here: http:// 

5 I believe that this accounts for the absence of any development 
of the notion of comm -unity’. On this topic, Stirner pointed to some 
unarticulated notion of the union of egoists’. 


for this reason that Allen Wood described Stimer 
as a “radical nihilist” (Wood, 1996: 222) rather 
than a subjectivist (Wood, himself, often taking the 
position of a ‘moral skeptic’ and/or ‘moral nihilist’), 
and for the remainder of this thesis I will treat Stimer 
quite faithfully as such. Stimer’s accidentalman does 
not fall into the positive framework of meta-ethical 
foundations but rather takes on the attributes of 
the full range of meta-ethical philosophy. His work 
must therefore be distinguished from, for example, 
today's reading of the cogito. This nihilist response 
to the question of place takes on a similar dimension 
as the concept ‘anethicism’ does in the meta-ethical 
writings of John Burgess: 

Anethicism (or moral skepticism) main- 
tains that [...] [ojrdinary people’s moral 
judgements are meant as statements of 
impersonal fact about absolute values, 
but there are no such objective values, 
so moral thinking involves a fundamen- 
tal mistake and illusion. Anethicism is to 
ethics as atheism is to theology (Burgess, 
2007: 427). 

The nihilist responds negatively to the place of 
ethics just as the atheist responds negatively to the 
place of god. For example, Nietzsche argued that 
active nihilists, in negating traditional values, raise 


the unstable framework 

the possibility of the transvaluation of values: in this 
sense, the active nihilist rejects the positive place of 
ethics but only in order for her to leap forward into 
the world of positive ethics anew. We find similar 
arguments in the work of Bataille, Kierkegaard, Zizek, 
Virilio, and others. Nihilists maintain that there may 
be no objective guidelines for action, only manifest 
reductions of a base reality. 6 1 shall come back to this 
description of nihilism shortly. 

I may now describe the problem of ontological 
essentialism more broadly as the problem of stable 
foundations in conceptions of place. It proves 
fruitful to borrow an explanation from the feminist 
literature, and in particular Diana Fuss: 

[Ontological essentialism is] a belief in 
the real, true essence of things, the in- 
variable and fixed properties which define 
the ‘whatness’ of a given entity. In femin- 
ist theory the idea that men and women, 
for example, are identified as such on the 
basis of transhistorical, eternal, immutable 
essences has been unequivocally rejected 

6 For the purpose of this essay I have collapsed moral skepticism’ and 
‘moral nihilism’ into a higher level category: ‘ethical nihilism.’ The differences 
between the two concepts are a matter of subtlety rather than a matter of 
extreme division, they thus serve my thesis better beneath one term. For 
example, moral skeptics claim that “[n]o ethical belief is certain, all ethical 
beliefs are unjustified” while moral nihilists believe that “[a]ll ethical 
statements are false” (Wood, n.d.: 8). 


by many anti - ess entialist poststructuralist 
feminists concerned with resisting any at- 
tempts to naturalize human nature (Fuss, 

1989: xt). 

Crucial, here, is the relationship of ontology, 
essence, and representation. The problem with 
ontological essentialism, for Fuss, is that it aims 
to represent the subject as a transhistorical ideal. 
In any case, essentialism includes all attempts to 
describe universal attributes or practices that arise 
in conjunction with one’s being across the positive 
dimension. The popular contribution of post- 
anarchist philosophy to the anarchist tradition has 
been its exposition of the history of ontological 
essentialism within (classical) anarchist literature. 
Here I should be careful to distinguish between the 
post-structuralist concern with difference and/or 
; plurality and the Lacanian or Stimerian conjecture 
of empty subjectivity. For example, Fuss brings 
her rejection of anti-essentialism to the following 
conclusion: “[ijmportantly, essentialism is typically 
defined in opposition to difference; the doctrine of 
essenceisviewedas preci s ely that whi ch s e eks to deny 
or to annul the very radicality of difference” (Fuss, 
1989: xii ) . We shall see that the problem of post- 
anarchist political philosophy in the anglophone 
world has been to reduce the anti-essentialist 


the unstable framework 

impulse to a system of knowledge whose answer to 
the question of process has been restricted to the 
post- structuralist emphasis on difference and/or 
plurality. In this regard, the problematic emerges 
not from the production of useful knowledge but 
from the production of one hegemonic language 
game. In short, pluralists (relativists) have allowed 
us to understand that the problem of difference is 
also the problem of democracy and liberal tolerance 
in that difference and democracy are predicated 
upon a faith in the subject’s ability to choose her 
own reality. As one commentator on a popular 
anarchist forum has put it: “I am really concerned 
about the masked social democratic leanings of all 
the radical postmodernists [...] I just get this feeling 
that post-anarchism allows the appropriation of 
the label of anarchism for academics that secretly 
aspire to be the technocratic class of the global 
social democratic state .” 7 

In the nihilist case, this faith is put to rest: 
the subject’s choices are always based on failure 
and impossibility. For instance, Jacques Camatte, 
describing the limits of democracy (as direct 
democracy, a traditional anarchist idea), has argued 
that democracy stands in the way of an authentic 

7 See forum thread here: 
post-anarchism-today- new-journal-anybody-read-it-26122010 


[C]ommunism is the affirmation of a be- 
ing, the true Gemeinwesen of man. Dir- 
ect democracy appears to be a means for 
achieving communism. However com- 
munism does not need such a mediation. 

It is not a question of having or of doing, 
but of being (Camatte, 1969). 

The resolution of the problem of system must 
also go hand in hand with the resolution of the 
problem of being. The problem of being must also 
be revealed as the question of non-being. But the 
problem of being is also hindered by the problem 
of knowing. For this reason Allen Wood has argued 
that ethical nihilism “is the diametrical opposite of 
ethical relativism” and, as a result, “relativism denies 
that anyone can say or believe [that] anything false” 
(Wood, n.d.: 3). Relativism allows the ostensibly 
autonomous subject to make a truth-claim but 
relativists always endorse the truthfulness of this 
claim positively (Wood, n.d.: 3). Relativists ignore 
the latent dimension of ethics and rely too faithfully 
on the manifest dimension. On the other hand, 
nihilists retain the autonomy of the truth-claim but 
recognize the paradoxical attributes of this claim — 
there is a latent truth and there is a manifest truth: 
[Rjelativism says that whatever anybody 
believes must be true (for that person) 


the unstable framework 

[...] [nihilism] denies that we can ever 
be sure which beliefs these are [...] [it] 
is quite an extreme position, and prob- 
ably false; but it is not threatened with 
self-refutation, as relativism is. For it is 
perfectly self-consistent to say that you 
hold beliefs that are uncertain, or even 
unjustified (Wood, n.d.: 4). 

The consistency of the meta-ethical framework 
is achieved, as Wood suggests, by granting the full 
range of attributes to the foundation and the sys- 
tem. Otherwise, the position consistently fails and 
the one dimension is granted descriptive power over 
the other. This provides us with a nice entry point 
into the problem of epistemological foundational- 
ism in positive responses to the question of process. 

The Problem of Process and 
Epistemological Foundationalism 

The second area of study in meta-ethical phil- 
osophy has traditionally concerned the process 
(mental or practical) through which humans are 
thought to arrive at the proper methods of self- 
conduct (cf., Fieser, 2003). This includes the ‘why?’ 
and ‘how?’ questions that have further prompted 
the development of semantic theories on eth- 


ics. From the mid -thirteenth century process was 
understood as forward movement (Harper, 2010b). 
This implies a telos but my usage embraces all types 
of movement, including movement without cause 
and failed movements. Central to the preoccupation 
on process has been the question of telos inherent 
to consequential st ethics or else, as in non-con- 
sequentialist ethics, the direction toward which, and 
the epistemological function through which, the 
ethical actor is thought to be moving. Finally, we ar- 
rive at our second philosophical ap riori for much of 
traditional and contemporary ethics. Whereas the 
first a priori has approached the question of place 
through metaphysics, the second has approached 
the question of process through epistemology — the 
study of truth, belief, and judgement in meta- ethics 
as played out in the fictitious battle between cogni- 
tivism and non-cognitivism. 

The three substantial theories have also re- 
sponded in various ways to the question of process. 
I will provide the most popular configurations of the 
function of process in a priori conceptions of place. 
First, adherents of ethical universalism have tended 
to maintain a singular truth across all social groups. 
By way of example, Noam Chomsky, a noted liber- 
tarian anarchist, has argued on more than one occa- 
sion, that “one of the, maybe the most, elementary 
of moral principles is that of universality, that is, if 


the unstable framework 

something is right for me, it’s right for you; if it’s 
wrong for you, it’s wrong for me. Any moral code 
that is even worth looking at has that at its core 
somehow” (Chomsky, 2002). Chomsky’s adoption 
of the universalist ethical discourse is nowhere more 
apparent than in the response he has provided to his 
critics regarding his participation in what has come 
to be called the ‘Faurisson Affair.’ Chomsky, who 
allegedly supported the ‘right’ of Robert Faurisson 
to publicize his questionable thoughts on the holo- 
caust — as Chomsky (1981) has put it, “he denies 
the existence of gas chambers or of a systematic plan 
to massacre the Jews and questions the authenticity 
of the Anne Frank diary, among other things” — had 
this to say in his defence: 

[...] it is elementary that freedom of ex- 
pression (including academic freedom) 
is not to be restricted to views of which 
one approves, and that it is precisely the 
case of views that are almost universally 
despised and condemned that this right 
mustbe most vigorously defended (ibid.). 

Kant’s categorical imperative rests upon this 
axiom of generalizability and as a consequence 
it bounds the ethical subject to the shared duties 
illuminated through practical reason (cognitivism): 
“This harmonizing with humanity as an end in itself 


would, however, be merely negative and not positive, 
unless everyone also endeavours, as far as he can, 
to further the ends of others. For the ends of any 
person who is an end in himself must, if this idea is 
to have its full effect in me, be also, as far as possible, 
my ends” (Kant, [1783] 2007: 181). Thus, for 
Kant, the universalizing principle takes the form of 
an imperative resulting from objective reason. 

Adherents of the semantic theory associated 
with ethical universalism have typically presumed an 
objective place that is illuminated by the reasoning 
capacities of the mind as in deontological ethics, or 
empirical observations as in naturalist methodologies, 
etc. Overall, the popular criticism against ethical 
universalism has been that adherents have been 
insensitive to the unique cultural codes of diverse 
social groups and that they have therefore judged 
the ethical actions of these groups according to 
the standards of only one hegemonic social group. 
As Todd May has put it, “[t]he threat posed [...] in 
articulating a universal conception of justice is that of 
allowing one linguistic genre (namely, the cognitive) 
to dominate others” (May, 1994: 129). Mackie’s 
critique of utilitarianism has stood the test of time 
and has proved to be a useful critique in this respect: 
People are simply not going to put the 
interests of all their ‘neighbours’ on an 
equal footing with their own interests [...] 


the unstable framework 

Such universal concern will not be the ac- 
tual motive of their choice, nor will they 
act as if it were (Mackie, 1977: 130-1). 

Yet the question is inevitably raised: why do 
ethical actors utter these statements, love thy 
neighbour, and so on, if they do not believe them 
to be true? Mackie’s response has alluded to the 
psychoanalytical understanding of the role of 
fantasy in everyday life: 

It encourages the treatment of moral 
principles not as guides to action but 
as a fantasy which accompanies actions 
with which it is quite incompatible [...] 

To identify morality with something that 
certainly will not be followed is a sure 
way of bringing it into contempt — prac- 
tical contempt, which combines all too 
readily with theoretical respect (Mackie, 
1977: 131-2). 

This logic has close affinities with that of the 
superego in Lacanian thought, which succeeds in 
gamering control of the id by way of the subject’s 
encouraged transgressions: Enjoy! Moreover, the 
Lacanian interpretation of Mackie’s statement 
would be that fantasized ethics are the very stuff 
of the imaginary order — an order of presumed 


wholeness, synthesis, similarity, and autonomy. 

Bernard Williams’s response to the central 
problematic of utilitarianism or consequentialism 
provided a useful critique of utilitarianism and 
consequentialism. He argued that people do not 
judge actions according to their consequences 
alone. As the Telegraph put it: “Williams pointed 
out, a very quick way to stop people from parking on 
double yellow lines in London would be to threaten 
to shoot anyone that did. If only a couple of people 
were shot for this, it could be justified on a simple 
utilitarian model, since it would promote happiness 
for the majority of Londoners” (Telegraph, 2003). 
According to Williams, utilitarian ethicists do 
not take their own discourse seriously — instead, 
they appear to be victims of their own elaborate 
fantasy. They thus fail to traverse the fantasy of 
ethics. Traversing the fantasy implies bringing it 
to its limit in order to expose the extent to which 
the ethical system shatters. 8 The problem of ethical 
universalism is therefore the problem of mistaking 
fantasy for base reality, base reality is much rather 
the unstable foundation of these limits. 

This is the nature of fantasy in the political 
context: we do not bring our political principles to 

8 I do not mean to imply that there is an accessible underside to the 
fantasy. Rather, I intend to point out that the fantasy is itself something 
that can be fantasized about to the end. 


the unstable framework 

the end precisely in order to defend the principles 
upon which our unstable ideologies depend. Is 
this not what is at work in postmodern politics and 
aesthetics? I hope that the reader will permit me 
the minor detour to establish this claim. Politics as 
the surplus of need rendering possible an activity of 
novelty in the scopic field; this, in essence, defines 
the public realm as the sphere of action. Hannah 
Arendt insisted that those who acted in the public 
realm were courageous — but for so long courage 
referred to inner-most feelings rather than to the 
natality of action in the public realm. What could 
be more inner than that which is outside? Whatthis 
something strange to me, although it is at the heart 
of me is, for Lacan, is precisely the real of things 
from which we are barred. It is an outside that is 
paradoxically at the very heart of the subject. Things 
have withdrawn from our viewing of them and, as 
such, the fear that they arouse does not and can not 
relate to the public realm of perception. Contrarily, 
politics begins with our frightening relationship to 
things in the world and with our inability to become 
the thing among things that we are. 

Walter Benjamin knew very well that children 
had no need for politics. He took pleasure in his 
childhood relationship to things, a pleasure sur- 
mounted by an extreme discomfort on the verge of 
his collapse. Very nearly had the young Benjamin 


become a thing among the things that inhabited 
the space of his hiding place. By encasing himself 
within the world of things, he threatened to destroy 
himself and become a thing with them: “The child 
who stands behind the doorway curtain himself be- 
comes something white that flutters [...] and behind 
a door, he is himself a door” (Benjamin, 2006: 99). 
The human intruder invited panic in Benjamin: “In 
my hiding place, I realize what was true about all of 
this. Whoever discovered me could hold me petri- 
fied [...] [and] confine me for life within the heavy 
door. Should the person looking for me uncover my 
lair, I would therefore give a loud shout [...] with a 
cry of self-liberation” (ibid., 100). A cry, perchance 
for having failed in his impossible task, for having 
chosen to be human in the face of abjection; a cry 
that sounded in the memory of an adult day-dream- 
ing of his more capable childhood. In the withdrawal 
of things from view, fear and anxiety are primor- 
dial — and the distance (however close) of things to 
view is the founding for politics. Politics involves the 
administration of fear, it is the fear of fear itself. 

Fear is primordial. There is an activity to things. 
It is the subject whom is subjected to things and it 
is things that object to the subject. Lacan believed 
that the subject was bom prematurely, weak. In 
defence of the anxiety -provoking gaze of things, the 
subject projects a stain/screen upon the landscape; 


the unstable framework 

thus begins the subject’s administration of fear. 
Under postmodern conditions of late capitalism 
fear is administered on the behalf of the subject 
by unseen symbolic forces — this is the perversity 
of postmodern ideology. Politics under postmodern 
capitalism consists of being seen as apolitical agent 
in public: candlelight vigils, Facebook pages, a 
veritable Kierkegaardian moment where everybody 
wins (ie, the state wins for ostensibly ‘allowing’ the 
protesters to set up camp and the protesters win for 
bringing themselves and their issues into view). Paul 
Virilio’s work centres around this problem of the 
stain as the accelerated bringing into view of things 
under postmodern capitalism. Bertrand Richard 
writes in the preface to Virilio’s newest book: “The 
administration of fear is a world discovering that 
there are things to be afrai d of but still convinced that 
more speed and ubiquity are the answer” (Virilio, 
2012: 10-1). Grey Ecology is the discovery of the 
accident of postmodern capitalism — an accident that 
is revealed as a movement from perversion toward 
psychosis, from disavowal toward foreclosure, a 
shift in the cultural logic of late capitalism. Today 
we glimpse the emergence of a new regime of 
power that sustains itself through an ideology of 
claustrophobia: “imagine this universe where things 
will already be there, already viewed, already given” 
(Virilio, 2010: 34). Beneath the postmodern 


‘circuits of drive’ a disaster is looming: “The fear 
of acceleration is not there yet, but certain people, 
who are claustrophobic, or asthmatic, already feel 
this fear: the fear of exhausting the geo-diversity 
of the world” (ibid., 33). The fear of acceleration 
is the onset of postmodern psychosis and the 
decline of symbolic efficiency, and claustrophobia 
is the symptom of a world of speed, of the loss of 
the nom-de-'pere. It is a fear of fear itself insofar 
as claustrophobia is the foreclosure of the distance 
separating ourselves from things. 

Virilio contends that today “[w]e are in a 
world of madness” (Virilio, 2010: 92), the onset 
of which, I maintain, occurs as a response to the 
acceleration of the image through the geometral 
point of the eye. We are reminded that the first 
machine of acceleration was “not the locomotive of 
the industrial revolution [...] but the photographic 
apparatus” (ibid., 58). Virilio thereby relegates the 
problem of acceleration to the operations performed 
across the scopic field, to the acceleration of the 
stain: “[t]he machine of acceleration is the machine 
of vision” (ibid., 58). The question of the scopic 
field relates to the distance between two unities 
in geometral space — the stain is the pollution of 
a distance and this pollution becomes the central 
problem of postmodern politics. Virilio writes, “[t] 
he pollution of distance is grey ecology. One must 


the unstable framework 

keep one’s distance” (ibid., 81 ). The pollution of 
our space from things occurs as a consequence of 
the proliferation of images and as the ostensible 
elimination of that distance. In the photo-graph 
one quickly brings the world out there into one’s 
hands — a deceiving picture of the world that 
paradoxically brings reality further from view. A 
fitting aphorism: ‘relationships are like sand in 
the grip of your hand — held loosely and the sand 
remains where it is, but gripped too tightly and the 
sand tri ckles out.’ We have gripped things too tightly 
in our hands — acceleration, hyper-conformity 
has only made capitalism less perverse and more 
psychotic! Today, one has the image or the photo- 
graph without the sufficient number of point-de- 
capiton [quilting points]. Virilio’s ‘University of 
Disaster’ is the place from which the discovery of 
accidents inherent to the acceleration of progress 
might occur — and these discoveries are crucial 
because they contribute, in whatever minimal way, 
to the possibility of regaining some sense of the 
world. The discovery of the airplane brought with it 
the accident of the plane crash — and yet, to protect 
ourselves from the fear of flying, we forget about 
the accident and focus on the tele-vision folded- 
out into view just a foot from our eyes. Perhaps the 
appropriate counter-accident was JetBlue's in-flight 
movie of ‘Air Emergency’. 


Accidents are un-intenti onal byproducts 

inherent to the intentional narcissism of progress. 
In the scopic field they are best examined through 
contemporary art. According to Virilio, the accident 
of abstract art was thatitmade possible an aesthetics 
of the invisible — ie, the task of post-war abstract art 
was to bring the invisible into the geometral space, 
into the visible. Virilio’s response to modem abstract 
art is crucial for continental aesthetics: he reveals 
the pollution of the visual field by the narcissism of 
the imaginary. Thus, the symptom or accident of 
postmodern capitalism is not just claustrophobia 
but also glaucoma: “[without knowing it, there is 
a restriction of the visual spectrum, and one loses 
laterality. [...] Tele-objectivity is a glaucoma [...] In 
the here and now, in the divine perception, and not 
by way of a screen, of a microscope, or the screen 
of a television, there is a very important element. I 
am surprised to what degree people are no longer 
able to orient themselves in life. They have lost their 
perception of their lateral environment” (ibid., 56). 
The glaucoma of postmodern capitalism: ‘eyes so 
that they might not see.’ Lacan was clear on this 
point: “In the scopic field, everything is articulated 
between two terms that act in an antinomic way — 
on the side of things, there is the gaze, that is to say, 
things look atme, andyet I see them. This is how one 
should understand those words, so strongly stressed 


the unstable framework 

in the Gospel, they have eyes that they might not see. 
That they might not see what? Precisely, that things 
are looking at them” (Lacan, 1988: 109). “To see,” 
Virilio claims, “is not to know” (Virilio, 2010: 79). 
Virilio teaches us that acceleration brings with it 
the accident of seeing but not knowing, of acting 
without knowing the intention or accidents inherent 
to one’s acts or presentations, and so on. Eyes so 
that they may not see, Virilio intends to remove our 
eyes so that we might see. 

Postmodern politics as the public activity of 
those who do not act, postmodern aesthetics as 
the visibility of that which the eyes can not see — 
Virilio’s theory of aesthetics reveals the invisibility 
of visibility itself. We ought to remember the 
Lacanian dictum that the foreclosure of the nom- 
de-yere results in the return of the symptom in 
the real. In other words, what is rejected from 
the symbolic register re-appears as an imaginary 
guise in the real. Hubertus von Amelunxen, in 
an admittedly confused conversation with Virilio, 
has put this quite well: “Having read basically 
everything that you have published, I have never 
understood Art and Silence, because you turn the 
fundamental argument of modernism, to render 
visible, [...] around [by] saying that abstraction 
anticipated the becoming-invisible of the world 
of the visible” (Virilio, 2010: 57). This is why 


Virilio’s work on aesthetics is better read alongside 
Alain Badiou (cf., his fifteen theses on art), Slavoj 
Zizek and Jacques Lacan, rather than Gilles 
Deleuze, Hannah Arendt, Jean-Frangios Lyotard 
or Jacques Ranciere. For example, the accident of 
Malevich’s Black Square is fully exposed in Ad 
Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting: in the former, a 
‘new threshold’ for painting is breached — a black 
square disrupts the hegemony of the figurative 
line. But in the latter, the accident of the ‘new 
threshold’ is made possible — after distancing 
oneself from the painting, shifting one’s eyes and 
perspective, one begins to see beneath the real of 
the black square a re-emergence of the figurative 
line. The accident, an accidental encounter with 
the things of the world through over-proximity, 
through the foreclosure of distance, this is the 
visible hidden within the invisible. As Virilio puts it, 
“[although the accident — the inherent potential for 
derailment — is intentionally much less visible than 
the ostensible benefits of any given development, 
this ‘hidden face’ deserves critical attention” (ibid., 
136). It is this hidden face that challenges the 
hysterical Left’s contemporary fascination with a 
‘politics without politics’ (cf., Dean, 2009). 

Postmodern politics, after Virilio, must 
overcome the problem of the ‘wall of language’, 
for it is also the problem of the culture industry, 


the unstable framework 

as Virilio writes: “We do not debate in the same 
manner if we are in a lifeboat, an amphitheatre, 
or a classroom. You see already the modification 
of the debate for television, with the quickness of 
the exchanges. This disrupts the contents between 
the presenter and the so well-named, his ‘guest’. I 
call this type of debate ‘ping-pong’. ‘You have five 
seconds to respond.’ ‘ping-pong.’ [...] When I go on 
television, I hate it. [...] I do not want to play ‘ping- 
pong’” (Virilio, 2010: 65). Growing up I’ve become 
familiar with the best way to practice for ping-pong 
tournaments: one takes the table and folds one side 
of it up so that it is against a wall. The ‘other’ player 
becomes the wall itself. The ball bounces from the 
player’s paddle toward the wall and bounces back 
to the player in an inverted form. Perhaps it is time 
to stop practicing our politics the way we practice 
for a ping-pong tournament. 

Virilio's GreyEcologyis an essential readforthose 
looking to diagnose the accident of contemporary 
politics. Itis also of interest to those dissatisfied with 
the current democratic turn in the aestheticization 
of politics and the politicization of aesthetics. The 
book proves that there is the possibility for a non- 
democratic but equally non-statist intervention into 
aesthetics and politics. Virilio’s advice is to look the 
Medusa in the eye, face our fears, and traverse the 
fantasy of postmodern politics: 


We must start at the end and head to- 
wards the beginning, because the end is 
here. The finitude of all art and the world 
is here. Finitude is in front of us, and we 
must start from the end, not in order to 
cry, ‘Oh, it’s horrible.’ No, we must do this 
in order to confront the end and be able to 
go beyond it. I don’t know where this will 
lead, by the way (Virilio, 2010: 72). 

Whether in postmodern politics or in ethical 
universalism, the appropriate political task is to 
traverse the fantasy by beginning at the end. But 
what is the fantasy of ethical relativism? 

Ethical relativism retains the function of 
truth-apt propositions but substitutes the belief 
in universal truth for the related belief in multiple 
(often competing) truth- claims that are relative 
to differing conceptions of place. The problem 
with ethical relativism is one of accounting for 
the value of process in competing ethical groups 
when one social group’s ethical code over-rules the 
legitimacy of another process or value-system to 
exist. This is the problem outlined by Todd May: 
“The command to respect the diversity of language 
games is precisely an ethical one; moreover, it is 
a universally binding one” (May, 1994: 129). 
The result is that one invites domination or else 


the unstable framework 

falls back into a universal prescriptivism: “[T]he 
concern with ‘preserving the purity’ and singularity 
‘of each genre’ by reinforcing its isolation from the 
others gives rise to exactly what was intended to be 
avoided: ‘the domination of one genre by another’, 
namely, the domination of the prescriptive” (Sam 
Weber as cited by Todd May, 1994: 129). Zizek 
argued that this ethical code has become the 
fantasy of contemporary liberal politics: 

Today’s tolerant liberal multi culturalism 
wishes to experience the Other deprived 
of its Otherness (the idealized Other who 
dances fascinating dances and has an 
ecologically holistic approach to reality, 
while features like wife beating remain 
out of sight). Along the same lines, what 
this tolerance gives us is a decaffeinated 
belief, a belief that does not hurt anyone 
and never requires us to commit our- 
selves (Zizek, 2004). 

Ethical relativism thereby renders invisible 
what was previously visible in the project of ethical 
universalism: a certain violence or domination. It is 
for that reason all the more suspect and problematic 
(how do we attack an enemy that we can no longer 
see?). Jeffrey Reiman has described this as the 
paradox of relativism: 


Here enters the paradox: The critique 
of universal standards because they ex- 
clude certain individuals or groups of in- 
dividuals is a critique of those standards 
for not being universal enough! Con- 
sequently, rather than abandoning or op- 
posing universalism, the critique is itself 
based on an implicit valuation, albeit one 
that aims to be more inclusive than the 
ones critiqued (Reiman, 1996: 253). 

Reiman argued thatrelativismis founded upon 
a fantasized image of universalism at its limit. His 
critique was aimed at postmodern versions of me- 
ta-ethics and, in particular, the ‘Postmodern Ethics’ 
of Zygmunt Bauman. If one is thereby committed 
to a pluralist/relativist meta-ethics by way of one’s 
rejection of the authoritarianism of universalist 
meta-ethics, as in the case of post-anarchist me- 
ta-ethics (at least according to Benjamin Franks’s 
interpretation; c.f., Benjamin Franks, 2008a & 
2008b), then one is forced to return once again to 
the central problematic: how to account for a non- 
authoritarian universalism? Reiman explained: “In 
short, what postmodernism needs, what virtually 
every postmodern writer writes as if he or she had, 
but in fact does not have, is a universal standard 
for valuing human beings which is compatible with 


the unstable framework 

the postmodern critique of universals” (Reiman, 
1996: 254). 

The problem of universalism is thereby 
obscured by the relativist critique. There appear to 
be two appropriate responses to this problem (or 
dichotomy): the first is to rethink the meta-etbical 
framework from within the positive discourse of 
conventional meta-ethics, and; the second is to 
reject all positive frameworks. It is my belief that 
only a profoundly negative response is tenable and 
consistent with the overall tendency of the anarchist 
project. We are therefore met by the ostensible 
moral dilemma of choosing any one side of the 
relativist/universalist debate (this is also argued by 
Lukes, 2008; but Lukes stands firmly on one of 
the two sides), but in our case we have noticed that 
which side one presumes does not matter so much 
as how well one argues for their side through to its 
end — or else the problem of the false dichotomy is 
resolved by rejecting both relativist and universalist 
approaches in favour of nihilism. In any case, 
relativists believe that universal truth is constituted 
by the competing truth-claims of particularly 
situated social groups and/or subjects. A great 
example of this approach came from Andrew Koch, 
an early post-anarchist: 

The truth value of any such assertions [in 

universalist ethics] has been dissolved by 


the poststructuralist critique. The plur- 
ality of languages and the individuated 
nature of sensory experience suggest 
that each denotative and prescriptive 
statement must be unique to each in- 
dividual. Consensual politics is reduced 
to an expression of power, the ability 
for one set of metaphors to impose [...] 
its validating conditions for truth (Koch, 
[ 1993 ] 2011 : 37 ). 

I will return to many of the examples that 
I have provided in the remaining sections to 
come, for now it will be enough to take each as a 
particular example of the foundation and system of 
conventional meta-ethical philosophy. 

I may now briefly describe the problem of epis- 
temological foundationalism as it relates to posi- 
tive responses to the question of process. The belief 
that there are basic or axiomatic belief systems that, 
in turn, constitute the foundation for truth (upon 
which further truth-claims may be constructed by 
relation) is endemic to the foundationalist position. 
Taken together, now, we may say that ontological 
essentialism occupies the western side of the hori- 
zontal axis of being while epistemological founda- 
tionalism occupies the southern side of the vertical 
axis of knowing, as co- constitutive of essence (dis- 


the unstable framework 

played in Figure 1.0): 

Ethical nihilism proceeds on the basis of an 
epistemological emptiness and/or uncertainty. Eth- 
ical nihilists realize that truth-claims are pre-mised 
upon failure. For some anarchists, such as Benjamin 
Franks, there are significant problems with the eth- 
ical nihilist position (we should also be aware of the 
conflation in Franks’s work between ethical nihilism 
and ethical relativism). Franks’s argument is best 
summed up in the following passage: 

The belief that the individual (or individ- 
ual consciousness) is the fundamental 
basis for the construction of, and justi- 
fication for, moral values has a number 
of fatal flaws for an anarchist or any pro- 
ponent of meaning social action: (1) that 
it is fundamentally solipsistic, denying 
dialogue and discourse and the possibil- 
ity of moral evaluation; (2) it recreates 
social hierarchies of the form rejected by 
the core principles of anarchism; and (3) 
that [Max] Stimer’s own meta- ethical 
account is epistemologically unsound 
as it ignores its own social construction 
(Franks, 2008a: 16). 

I will approach a response to Franks’s argument 
in the next section, for now it will be enough to dis- 


Figure 1.0 - Essence 

tinguish between two main variants of ethical nihil- 
ism in relation to the dual question of process. Ethical 
nihilists are epistemological skeptics and, depending 
on their answer to the question of place, either hold 
an agnostic preference in relation to truth, admitting 
indifference to the fact that truth may or may not 
exist and that it is not the aim of their own discourse, 
or else they invite truth in all of its negative dimen- 
sions. In the latter approach, truth is believed to occur 
where existing truth claims are subverted. As we shall 
see, ethical nihilists may also be radical/base subjec- 
tivists (hereafter ‘base subjectivists’), particularly of 
the Stimerian egoist variety that Franks critiques in 
his article (although he attributes Stimer’s response 
to place as positive rather than negative). I shall here- 
after refer to the two nihilist positions, depending on 
their respective answers to questions of place and 
process, as ethical skepticism (as in the base subjec- 
tivist variant) and deep ethical nihilism (as in the base 
materialist variant). Ethical skeptics retain the subject 
as the locus of political activity (a ‘within’ categor- 
ization) while deep ethical nihilists reject the subject 
entirely (a ‘without’ categorization). 

The Absence of being in Subjectivist 
and Materialist Meta-Ethics 

Taken together, place and process presuppose 
the possibility for a meta-ethical understanding 


of the paradoxical essence of being as primordial 
non-being, as demonstrated by the four potential 
conclusions inherent to the meta- ethical question; 
whereby V (plus) indicates a traditional conception 
of that feature and (minus) indicate a paradoxical 
conception of that feature; ie, V indicates stability 
or presence in the feature and indicates that the 
feature undermines itself, is absent, or else builds 
presence upon its own negation/absence: 

Four Meta-Ethical Codes 

Ethical Code 






Base Subjectivist 






Base Materialist 



Four potential codes may be constructed ac- 
cording to this binary classification system and each 
potential may be respectively labelled as follows: 
(1) subjectivist, (2) base subjectivist, (3) materialist, 
and; (4) base materialist. Each code is connected 
to at least one of the substantial theories outlined 
above (ethical universalism, ethical relativism, and 
ethical nihilism) but, for the purposes of this essay, 
let us consider this as an independent model. My 
aim is to arrive at two pathways for understanding 

the unstable framework 


contemporary meta-ethics. These two pathways 
will further describe post-anarchist meta-ethics to- 
day, and post-anarchist meta-ethics after an inter- 
vention with Georges Bataille’s philosophy. 

In the traditional subjectivist code: place and 
process refer to the stable and transparent qualities 
of essence inherent in variants of humanist and exis- 
tentialist metaphysics whereby the subject assumes 
the position of mastery over her self-knowledge in 
order to avoid the truth inherent to her blunders, un- 
intentional utterances, and irrational desires (Fink, 
1995: 43). As Sass has put it, in humanist philoso- 
phy there is a faith “in the validity of the person’s self- 
awareness” (1989: 446). Thus, the self-aware sub- 
ject continuously brings herself into being through 
repetitive movements in rational thought. The func- 
tion of Descartes’s cogito, according to philosophers 
of the subject of non-being (from Sartre to Bataille 
and Lacan), has been to defend the fragile imagin- 
ary ego formation from the trauma of the Real by 
concealing its inevitable counteracting effects: “He 
[Descartes] conceptualizes a point at which think- 
ing and being overlap: when the Cartesian subject 
says to himself, ‘I am thinking’, being and thinking 
coincide momentarily” (Fink, 1995: 43). The sub- 
ject of the subjectivist code submits herself to the 
foreign demands made onto her and internalizes 
these cause(s) as her own. However, in doing so the 


primordial fear nonetheless returns: she has always 
deviated from this template and she will continue 
to do so until she takes the time to gaze into the 
darkness from whence her perversions arose. Fink 
has described this former process as ‘ego thinking’ 
whereby the ego attempts to “legitimate blunders 
and unintentional utterances by fabricating after- 
the-fact explanations which agree with the ideal 
self-image” (Fink, 1995: 44). It is in this sense that 
we may conclude that humanist meta-ethics, like all 
positive ethical systems, are founded within the im- 
aginary order. 

In summation, the subject of the subjectivist 
code perpetually aims to conceal the inevitable rup- 
tures in her thinking as a result of the original onto- 
logical mistake answered by the meta-ethical ques- 
tion of place: the coherence granted to the subject 
by her essence registers itself as a manifestation of 
the imaginary order, an imaginary ego formation and 
maintainability (ideal-ego/ego-ideal), rather than as 
the radically foreign and impossible Real ego — here 
we might imagine Lacan’s Schema L, the imaginary 
axis of a to a ’ constitutes this field). While this does 
not preclude the influence of the Real in imaginary 
and symbolic thought it does, as it were, function to 
conceal (or repress) the trauma of this loss. 

In the base subjectivist code the belief in a 
truth-bound subject is retained but only as a cri- 


the unstable framework 

tique of telos. The telos of truth, liberation, and the 
dialectic of history, and so on, is disrupted by an 
epistemological process that gears itself toward the 
darkness of the unconscious. Jacques Lacan, the 
exemplar of the base subjectivist code, appropriated 
the inverted form of Descartes’s cogito as: ‘either I 
am not thinking or I am not’{ ‘Ouje ne pense pas ou 
je ne suis pas). The presumption was that the sub- 
ject is constituted by a fundamental split between 
thinking ( ‘either I am not thinking ) and being ( ‘or 
I am not). The lineage of classical and tradition- 
al philosophical thought since Plato (and through 
Aristotle), as well as the positive foundations and 
systems upon which these traditions have been built, 
have traditionally upheld the belief in an inextricable 
connection between the positive responses to place 
and process. After the base subjectivist re-reading of 
Freud, through Jacques Lacan’s writing, one is able 
to analytically distinguish between several potential 
relationships in place and process and to thereafter 
incorporate absence or accident as the full range of 
one’s being as well as the full range of one’s know- 
ing. In the base subjectivist code the subject is re- 
tained as the place from which ethics are thought 
to derive but the process through which these eth- 
ics are believed to be filtered is reverted toward a 
constitutively open discourse whereby the subject’s 
self-knowledge is no longer concealed by imagin- 


ary identifications with foreign causes or essences. 
Instead, the subject assumes the place from which 
her irrational desires emanate and she is no longer 
obligated to give way to her everyday rational desires 
(‘ ne ce pas ceder sur son desid). 

In this sense, the subject does not become 
sensu stricto non-being but she becomes symbolic- 
ally aware of the non-being at the heart of her be- 
ing. In a word, she understands and comes to oc- 
cupy that split between her essential ego formation 
and the desires that continuously call this forma- 
tion into question. This is what Lacan meant when 
he argued that “[ojnce the subject himself comes 
into being, he owes it to a certain non-being upon 
which he raises up his being” (Lacan, 1988: 192) 
and “being of non-being, that is how / comes on 
the scene as a subject who is conjugated with the 
double aporia of a veritable subsistence that is abol- 
ished by his "knowledge, and by a discourse in which 
it is death that sustains existence” (Lacan, [1960] 
2006: 679). This is precisely a social death that 
occurs in tandem with the negation of one’s place 
in any discursive system, for the destruction of 
knowledge is simultaneously the destruction of 
ethics and the destruction of ethics can only be es- 
tablished from within the foundation of knowledge; 
knowledge is to be thought of as the symbolic ap- 
paratus of language, or what Lacan has designated 


the unstable framework 

as ‘imaginary knowledge’ or connaissance (Lacan, 
1973: 281). Is this not the meaning behind Freud’s 
oft-cited thesis that ‘[a] man should not strive to 
eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with 
them, they are legitimately what directs his conduct 
in this world’? 

I shall pose my answer to this question as the 
following provocation: is the return of ethics in pol- 
itical and social philosophy not also the symptom 
of its defeat by the imaginary symbolic system of 
knowledge? To get into accord with this complex 
presumes the misdirected and confused passions of 
the militant whose actions are fraught with mental 
anguish and who therefore proceeds with great re- 
luctance and caution. This approach, what has been 
coined the ‘ethics of the Real’, has been described 
in great depth by Alenka Zupancic. Zupancic has 
argued that ethics is paradoxical insofar as “[t]he 
heart of all ethics is something which [...] has noth- 
ing to do with the register of ethics [...] [Instead it] 
concerns something which appears only in the guise 
of the encounter, as something that [...] surprises us, 
throws us ‘out of joint’” (2000: 235). This at first 
appears to be a radically foreign materialist ethical 
system but it falls back to the ethics of the receptive 
subject for it is she who must perform the ethical act. 
The Real is that which interrupts the smooth func- 
tioning of the subject’s ideological universe and it is 


also the Real that allows for this universe to become 
reconfigured by the symbolic system (Zupancic, 
2000: 235): “[h]ence the impossibility of the Real 
does not prevent it from having an effect in the 
realm of the possible” (Zupancic, 2000: 235). 

The ethics of the act occurs by way of the sub- 
ject’s reception of the Real: “will I act in conformity 
[with] what threw me ‘out of joint’, will I be ready to 
reformulate what has hitherto been the foundation 
of my existence?” (Zupancic, 2000: 235). This is 
likewise the approach argued for by Richard J. F. Day 
in his book Gramsciis Dead (2005). For Day, as for 
Lacan, the ethics of the Real (or ‘politics of the Act’) 
is required to disrupt the inevitable perpetuation of 
the politics of demand: 

[E]very demand, in anticipating a re- 
sponse, perpetuates these structures, 
which exists precisely in anticipation of 
demands. This leads to a positive feed- 
back loop, in which the ever-increasing 
depth and breadth of apparatuses of 
discipline and control create ever-new 
sites of antagonism, which produce new 
demands, thereby increasing the quan- 
tity and intensity of discipline and con- 
trol. [...] It is at this point that a politics of 
the act [or ethics of the Real] is required 
(Day, 2005: 89). 


the unstable framework 

Day describes the ethics of the Real as the 
subject’s ability to “go through [...] the fantasy of 
the symbolic system”; “[gjoing through the fantasy 
in this case means giving up on the expectation 
of a non-dominating response from structures of 
domination” (Day, 2005: 89). Day has been one of 
very few anarchist philosophers to adequately tackle 
the meta-ethical question of anarchism. To the 
extent that I can, at this point, come into agreement 
with Day it is in that particular quality of his more 
concrete ethics, what he terms the ‘ethics of affinity,’ 
that affirms “a logic that escapes reason — the logic 
of affinity, [...] [which] involves other affects such as 
passion, strategy, rhetoric and style” (2001: 23). Itis 
this logic of passion, rhetoric and style, as an escape 
from reason, that remains tied to the base subjectivist 
node as I describe it here. 

In the materialist code positive conceptions of 
place are rejected and traditional understandings of 
telos are largely retained. The subject is abandoned 
as the site from which ethics are derived but all 
ethics are thought to arrive as aresponse to the truth 
inherent to the goal (s)ought. Although I do not 
wish to enter into a debate about the plausibility of 
the claim that Marx was a consequentialist, I would 
nonetheless hazard to provide an interpretation 
of aspects of Marx’s work as the embodiment of 
the materialist code as I describe it here. In other 


words, this should be thought of as an example of 
consequentialism not as an argument that Marx’s 
work was in fact consequentialist. One should 
furthermore note that Marx was not an ethicist 
and meta-ethical interpretations of his work rely 
principally on the latent rather than the manifest 
interpretation. Derek P. H. Allen, describing the 
utilitarian tendency of consequentialism, has 
argued that: 

Marx believes social revolution is a moral- 
ly justifiable goal because [...] it is a neces- 
sary condition of general freedom. Then to 
the extent that some act n is causative of 
social revolution, it is to that extent and 
for that reason morally justifiable. The 
statement [...] is consistent with utilitar- 
ianism (if ‘ought’ is qualified by prima 
facie) in case the social revolution is in 
someone’s interest. Marx believes acts 
causative of social revolution are in the in- 
terests of the proletariat; to that extent his 
position is compatible with utilitarianism 
[and, I would also add, ethical universal- 
ism] (1973: 189). 

Thus, because the question of ethics in Marx’s 
own writing has only been answered by the latent 
content — by way of which we may arrive at the con- 


the unstable framework 

sequentialist reading — it is difficult to infuse Marx- 
ist politics with consistent anti -authoritarian ethical 
obligations, as many attempt to do today, unless first 
of all tactically pairing the meaning of the manifest 
content with the latent and manifest anti -authori- 
tarian tendencies of anarchistpolitical philosophy. In 
this case, anarchism rescues Marxism from the au- 
thoritarian, consequentialist, interpretation. For the 
purpose of this chapter it will be enough to describe 
materialism as the dogma that aligns itself with the 
a posteriori knowledge of material conditions re- 
vealed through teleological conceptions of truth. 

In this regard, Georg Lukacs provided an ad- 
equate and useful explanation of dialectical mater- 
ialism: “The premise of dialectical materialism is, 
we recall: ‘It is not men’s consciousness [a rejec- 
tion of ‘place’] that determines their existence, but 
on the contrary, their social existence [an affirma- 
tion of ‘process’] that determines their conscious- 
ness.’ [...] Only when the core of existence stands 
revealed [through knowledge-valued methodolo- 
gies/processes] as a social process can existence 
be seen as the product, albeit the hitherto uncon- 
scious product, of human activity” (Lukacs, 1919: 
§5). Lukacs, and many other Marxists, strongly 
criticized what they saw as the bourgeois individ- 
ualism of subjectivist ethics (and, here, like Franks, 
they have also conflated the base subjectivist ten- 


dency with the subjectivist one). But according to 
some of the post-anarchists, the materialist ethic 
reaches its highest and most potent form in the 
development of the vanguard party. The vanguard 
party is said to have the astutely positioned role of 
generating knowledge about matters of the current 
context based on the trajectory of the necessary 
movement toward communism, and then transfer- 
ring this knowledge onto those who otherwise lack 
the proper awareness about such matters. Is this 
not one of the possible interpretations of the func- 
tion of false or betrayed consciousness amongst the 
revolutionary class as preached by traditional or so- 
called orthodox Marxist intelligentsia, that is, that 
they value certain truth claims as universal in scope 
while rendering other forms of knowledge as, pe- 
joratively speaking, non-knowledge? 

Finally, in the base materialist code, the subject 
as the place of resistance no longer holds and a deep 
nihilism takes over the epistemological function. 
Truth is gained by reductions in useful knowledge. 
My reading of the significance of recent develop- 
ments in nihilist communist thought, particularly 
the writings of the Dupont brothers (writing under 
the following pen names, at least: Monsieur Dupont, 
here dupont, and Le Gargon Dupont) is that there is 
a base materialist philosophy inherent to their pro- 
vocation. I would like to quote at length because I 


the unstable framework 

believe that nihilist communism has not received the 
attention it deserves: 

Pro -revolutionary thought is negative 
thought because it criticises what exists 
and because it proposes a solution that 
is real only in the sense that it can be 
conceived of — it says no to reality and 
yes to what does not exist [an answer to 
the question of place]. At this juncture 
there has always been a separating of the 
ways as to what to do next, the most ob- 
vious solution is to attempt some kind of 
transfer or projection of the milieu’s con- 
sciousness onto the everyday conscious- 
ness of the masses [this is the problem 
of the vanguard party as a consequence 
of false consciousness]. When this strat- 
egy fails, and for each successive genera- 
tion of revolutionaries, it has failed, some 
small fragment of the milieu has re- 
cognised the negative character of milieu 
thought, its incommunicability, and then 
it rediscovers nihilism [an answer to the 
question of process]. This is the last pos- 
ition, it seeks only to give nothing back, 
to hold onto the negative, that there is 
something remaining, not bound in by 
the suffocating powers anayed against it. 


It refuses to engage on any terms. The 
nihilist fragment seizes hold of the nega- 
tive character and develops it as far as 
possible within the confines of the con- 
temporary pro-rev framework. The nihil- 
istic tendency develops [...] because it 
recognises that the only other option is a 
return to politics and complicity. [...] The 
return to positivity erupts at every step 
within the negative project; you observe 
how supposed revolutionaries suddenly 
throw themselves into political cam- 
paigns determined by events, particu- 
larly during elections, and which have no 
bearing on expressed pro -revolutionary 
values. [...] ([Tjhese arguments have ap- 
peared in the anarchist journal Freedom 
and originate in ‘class struggle anarchist’ 
circles, that is from those who imagine 
themselves to have the most radical and 
uncompromising agenda). [...] Their an- 
alysis is overburdened by strategy-think 
[...] [and] the immediatistic whizz of solv- 
ing stated, specific problems (frere du- 
pont, 2004). 

I believe that frere dupont’s provocation de- 
scribes precisely the radical appropriation of the 


the unstable framework 

nihilist ethic. Taken to its limit, nihilist communism 
is perhaps the only base materialist political phil- 
osophy in practice today. 

Georges Batai lie’s base materialist nihilism is 
apparent in the Dupont’s texts. Bataille’s oeuvre 
represents a deep ethical nihilism for two reasons. 
First, he strongly negated all positive notions of 
place: “[T]horough-going dehumanization of na- 
ture, involving the uttermost impersonalism in the 
explanation of natural forces, and vigorously atheo- 
logical cosmology. [...] An instinctive fastidiousness 
in respect to all the traces of human personality, and 
the treatment of such as the excrement of matter; 
as its most ignoble part, its gutter” (Land, 1992: 
xx). Unlike the ethical subject in base subjectivist 
meta-ethics, the subject as a metaphysical category 
is a symptom rather than a solution to the ques- 
tion of political space. Second, he strongly opposed 
strictly positive answers to the question of process: 
“Ruthless fatalism. No space for decisions, respon- 
sibilities, actions, intentions. Any appeal to notions 
of human freedom discredits a philosopher beyond 
amelioration” (Land, 1992: xx). Unlike the ethical 
act in base subjectivist meta-ethics, the subject’s 
decisions are inconsequential — the best approach 
is none at all. This is a form of nihilism that tests 
the limits of ethics (Nick Land has argued that Ba- 
taille’s nihilism is a full rejection of ethics, cf., Land, 


1 992: xx\ here, I would claim that it is much rather 
a proclamation of an ethics of the second order) 
while rejecting the telos of consequentialist ethics: 
“Nihilism is the loss of this goal, the nullification of 
man’s end, the reversion of all work to waste. It is 
in this sense that history is aborted by zero” (Land, 
1992: xx). Nihilism is therefore the founding of a 
politics of failure in a space of emptiness. Bataille’s 
nihilism involves the loss of the political subject as 
well as the political project. I will explore Bataille’s 
paradoxical ethics in another section of this essay, 
for now it will be enough to situate Bataille’s oeuvre 
firmly within the base materialist response to meta- 
ethical questioning. Can we not suggest, at least, 
since it is perhaps on the minds of all contempor- 
ary meta-ethicists and yet rarely brought to fruition 
(Wood, 1996: 221-3), that Bataille’s nihilism is 
meta-ethics ■proper, that it is the fullest response 
to the negation of place and process within the me- 
ta-ethical framework? If we are to subscribe to the 
nihilist currents within contemporary meta-eth- 
ical philosophy (and, I will remind the reader that 
Wood has argued that this is where contemporary 
meta-ethicists are today) we may also suggest that 
the base materialist discourse is a rejection of the 
full range of positive foundations and systems. 


the unstable framework 

Anarchism, The Latent Tradition 

I have been hinting that we can further divide 
each of the two areas ofmeta- ethical philosophy into 
manifest and latent subtypes, thus providing another 
dimension of possibility with which to describe the 
various paradigms of anarchist philosophy. We may 
distinguish between the explicit (whereby what one 
considers explicit in a text one also considers to be 
approaching the objective reading by subtracting the 
author’s unstated intentions and the context within 
which the author has written. I am aiming to de- 
scribe the literal) and the implicit (whereby what 
one understands to be implicit one also believes to 
be brushing the intentions or desires of the author 
through a negation of the manifest content or else 
through an interpretation of themes evident across 
collective representations of texts) elements of the 
text with respect to questions of place and process. 
It should be noted that by invoking the concept of in- 
tentionality I do not mean to bring about an alliance 
with hermeneutic methodologies. My belief is that 
hermeneuticism — at least emblematic in the writ- 
ings of Paul Ricoeur (cf., Ricoeur, 1981) and Quen- 
tin Skinner (cf., Skinner, 1989) — rely on a faith in 
the smooth dialogue between two cogitos. That is, 
hermeneuticism involves a belief at some level that 
message M arrives to participant B from participant 
A in an unaltered form, as M. Moreover, message 


M carries with it the intentions and context of the 
original transmission (as something in Afmore than 
M). However, the lineage of continental philosophy, 
beginning at least with Bataille through to Lacan, 
assumes precisely the reverse (for more on this see, 
for example, Frank & Bowtie’s work on hermen- 
euticism in Jacques Lacan’s work, 1997: 97-122). 
Latent content reveals itself as the discoverable con- 
sistency — rather than the explainable intentionality, 
objective context, or objective meaning — within the 
residue of the manifest content (Neuendorf, 2002: 
5). Another way of thinking the manifest/latent di- 
chotomy comes from Gray & Densten and Hair et 
ah: Gray & Densten have defined the manifest con- 
tent as “elements [within a text] that are physically 
present and countable” (bringing to mind quantita- 
tive methodologies in sociology) (Gray & Densten, 
1998: 420). Hair et al. have described the latent 
content as “[contents that] cannot be measured dir- 
ectly but can be represented or measured by one or 
more [...] indicators” (bringing to mind qualitative 
methodologies in sociology) (Hair et al. as cited in 
Berg, 2001: 148). Each definition applies to the in- 
terpretation of textual documents but owes a certain 
debt to the psychoanalytical methods developed ori- 
ginally by Freud. 

Freud was principally interested in the analysis 
of manifest dream content by working through the 


the unstable framework 

implications of latent determinations, the dream 

All dreams of the same night belong, 
in respect of their content, to the same 
whole; their division into several parts, 
their grouping and number, are all full 
of meaning and may be regarded as 
pieces of information about the latent 
dream-thoughts. In the interpretation 
of dreams consisting of several main 
sections, or of dreams belonging to the 
same night, we must not overlook the 
possibility that these different succes- 
sive dreams mean the same thing, ex- 
pressing the same impulses in different 
material. That one of these homologous 
dreams which comes first in time is usu- 
ally the most distorted and most bashful, 
while the next dream is bolder and more 
distinct (1961: 216-217). 

The themes that emerge from “successive 
dreams” refer directly to the latent dream thoughts 
while the manifest dream content refers to the in- 
dividual “pieces of information”. When the mani- 
fest content is thus grouped it brings “bolder and 
more distinct” meaning to the preceding particular 
dreams. Freud’s writing at times confirmed the nega- 


tive and elusive character inherent to the thoughts 
of the latent content in the manifest dream-work, 
as the following passage appears to suggest: 

Now, however, a new state of affairs 
dawns upon me. The affection in the 
dream does not belong to the latent con- 
tent, to the thoughts behind the dream; 
it stands in opposition to this content; it 
is calculated to conceal the knowledge 
conveyed by the interpretation. Probably 
this is precisely its function. I remember 
with what reluctance I undertook the 
interpretation, how long I tried to post- 
pone it, and how I declared the dream 
to be sheer nonsense. [...] It has no in- 
formative value [...] (Freud, 1961: 99). 

Thus, the latent dream content provides the 
elusive impetus for the manifest elements of the 
dream — it is, so to speak, the motor of the dream , its 
foundation and system. To provide a crude example 
with respect to the anarchist emphasis on the place 
of power I would suggest the following conjecture as 
the quantitative summation of countless individual 
anarchist texts: ‘ Anarchists are against the State, 
Patriarchy, and the Church because representation 
and power are an inadequate framework for every- 
day life’. More often than not, one finds a variant of 


the unstable framework 

this expression in the grassroots publications of con- 
temporary anarchists rather than in the theoretical 
wellspring from which their actions are sourced, but 
this does not detract from my overall point 

Admittedly, the previous statement comes 
easy to me because it refers to the typical structures 
against which the majority of anarchists position 
themselves. But the question must be raised, fol- 
lowing Saul Newman: “Why is it that when some- 
one is asked to talk about radical politics today one 
inevitably refers to this same tired, old list of strug- 
gles and identities? Why are we so unimaginative 
politically that we cannot think outside the terms of 
this ‘shopping list’ of oppressions?” ([2001] 2007: 
171). In Lacanese, what we are dealing with is pre- 
cisely the movement from ‘symptom’ to ‘sinthome’. 
The question of latent content is raised in this re- 
spect because, despite the clarity of the manifest 
content within the original texts in question, par- 
ticular anarchists continue to restrict their analyses 
of power to the realization of concrete struggles and 
identities which are recuperated into the imagin- 
aries of radical critical interpretation. This approach 
certainly manifests in practice what was before ren- 
dered a negative force in the latent philosophical 
text — but it does not mimic in practice what was 
practised in theory such that practice itself might be 
regarded as a manifest symptom of a latent function. 


Certainly, I may say at this point that the 
negative process reflected in what may come to 
be regarded as key nihilist texts are themselves to 
be regarded as practices at the level of discourse 
rather than armchair speculations about life de- 
tached from practical relevance. Here, the negation 
of the manifest discourse may be thought of as a 
practice but we can not say the contrary: that the 
practice of the timeless reenactment of the mani- 
fest discourse can be thought of as negation. The 
anarchist tradition, taken in full, transcends these 
limited prescriptions, quite often identifying these 
manifestations of limited practice as symptoms of 
a larger ethos inherent to anarchist thought and 
practice but not reducible to them. 

It has become quite fashionable in some 
anarchist circles to argue for an anarchism that 
is rooted in practice and to subsequently declare 
that the entire anarchist tradition collapses around 
this principle. But this strikes me as profoundly 
short-sighted: anarchism can not be reduced to an 
assemblage of practices and/or ideas but rather it 
has come to embody the tension between and against 
these two poles. Quite often anarchists have mined 
the valuable ideas implied in given practices and 
explored their implications for philosophy. On the 
other hand, anarchists have also founded a practice 
of philosophy and named this ‘direct action at the 


the unstable framework 

level of thought.’ For example, Alejandro de Acosta 
has argued that there has been an undiscovered 
tendency within traditional anarchist philosophy: 
Philosophers allude to anarchist prac- 
tices; philosophers allude to anarchist 
theorists; anarchists allude to philoso- 
phers [...] What is missing in this schema, 

I note with interest, is anarchists allud- 
ing to philosophical practice (Alejandro 
de Acosta, in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 


In any case, the concrete manifest statement 
in my example is that the State (and I am inclined 
to also describe this as the State -ment) is an 
illegitimate framework for ethics, but now we may 
arrive at the latent definition of anarchism as an 
attitude of hostility in the face of representation 
and power (or else, as in base materialist variants, 
the profoundly negative an-archy that ceaselessly 
intervenes in the politics of representation). After 
the subtraction of the manifest content we arrive 
at the latent content: ‘Anarchists are against 
the State, Patriarchy, and the Church, because 
representation and power are an inadequate 
framework for political life’. Is this not precisely 
what an ethics of the real, and, indeed, Lacanian 
psychoanalysis as the traversal of the fantasy, is all 


about? The problem thus becomes: how can we be 
against representation and power without falling 
into the service of representation and power. The 
answer is paradoxical. 

Jesse Cohn has analytically distinguished 
between ‘typical’ and ‘essential’ anarchist state- 
ments. ‘Anarchists are against representation and 
power’, this aligns itself with Cohn’s definition of 
the essential: 

When I say typical, I am referring to 
anarchism as a material fact of history, 
when I say essential, I am referring to 
anarchism as an idea. The essence is an 
abstraction from material fact, a gen- 
eralization about what it is that unites 
anarchists across different historical per- 
iods in an anarchist tradition, about the 
ways in which individual self-identified 
anarchists have identified themselves 
(diachronically) with the historical move- 
ment as well as (synchronically) with 
their living cohort (Cohn, 2006: 15). 

I believe that Cohn’s model (typical/essential) 
is somewhat inferior to Freud’s (manifest/latent) 
because it precludes the discovery of certain key 
anarchist tendencies and philosophies including, 
most notably, Max Stimer and inheritors of the 


the unstable framework 

egoist anarchist tradition (Renzo Novatore, Zo d’Axa, 
Bruno Filippi, among others) who have always 
remained on the periphery of traditional anarchist 
thought, challenging its most basic assumptions. 
One has always had the sense that these thinkers 
were anarchists but it has been difficult to integrate 
them into the traditional language of anarchism . 9 
There is thus an ambiguity among the majority of 
anarchist scholars as to their place in the lineage or 
canon. I would like to include them in the lineage 
rather than exclude them because I believe that 
their inclusion invites new ways of conceiving old 
ideas . 10 Taken together, anarchism as a tradition, 
has referred to this latent ethical impulse against 

9 See Jason McQuinns discussion of Stirner from Anarchy: A Journal 
of Desire Armed: “Stirner s [...] absolute refusal of any and all forms of 
enslavement has been a perennial source of embarrassment for would- 
be anarchist moralists, ideologues, and politicians of all persuasions 
(especially leftists, but also including individualists and others). By 
clearly and openly acknowledging that every unique individual always 
makes her or his own decisions and cannot avoid the choices of self- 
possession or self- alienation and enslavement presented at each moment, 
Stirner scandalously exposes every attempt not only by reactionaries, but 
by self-proclaimed radicals and alleged anarchists to recuperate rebellion 
and channel it back into new forms of alienation and enslavement” 
(McQuinn, 2010). 

10 [revision: I would like to exclude them rather than include 
them, because their exclusion further excludes the possibility of 
their recuperation. See, for example, my forthcoming review of Saul 
Newman's edited book Max Stirner, with The Journal for the Study of 
Radicalism, 2012, Vol. 6., No. 2] 


representation and power. As Jesse Cohn has put it, 
[T]he historical anarchist movement pre- 
sented a socialist program for political 
transformation distinguished from reform- 
ist and Marxist varieties of socialism by its 
primary commitment to ethics, [as] ex- 
pressed [by]: 1) a moral opposition to all 
forms of domination and hierarchy (par- 
ticularly as embodied in the institutions of 
capitalism and the State, but also as mani- 
fested in other institutions, eg, the fam- 
ily, and in other relationships, etc, those 
of city and country or empire and colony) 
and, 2) a special concern with a coherence 
of means and ends [a rejection of telos] 
(Cohn, 2006: 14). 

Cohn has strategically described an ethics that 
is outside of the manifest symptom, but he has also 
included manifest, particular, embodiments of this 
ethics as an example (ie, ‘particularly as embodied 
in the institutions of capitalism and the State,’ and 
so on). Traditionally, anarchists have been forced 
to provide concrete examples so as to avoid the 
distanciation-effect of theory. But is not Cohn’s 
concretization of ethics the real distance? Does it 
not, by inscribing a shopping list of struggles and 
identities, reduce the playing field of politics? One 


the unstable framework 

must therefore seek to remain consistent with the 
latent force rather than the manifest structure 
of anarchist ethics, for there is a negativity that 
is at the very core of the anarchist tradition. This 
negativity is akin to that which is discussed by the 
meta-ethicist John L. Mackie: 

[W]hat I have called moral scepticism is 
a negative doctrine, not a positive one: it 
says what there isn’t, not what there is. 

It says that there do not exist entities or 
relations of a certain kind, objective val- 
ues or requirements, which many people 
have believed to exist. If [this] position is 
to be at all plausible, [it] must give some 
account of how other people have fallen 
into what [it] regards as an enor, and this 
account will have to include some positive 
suggestions about how values fail to be 
objective, about what has been mistaken 
for, or has led to false beliefs about, ob- 
jective values. But this will be a develop- 
ment of [the] theory, not its core: its core 
is the negation (Mackie, 1977: 17-8). 

Anarchism is primarily an ethical tradition dis- 
guised by many of its manifest symptoms and the 
development of its theory should be distinguished 


from an elaboration, paradoxical as it may be, of 
its ethical structure. This thesis (that anarchism is 
primary about ethics) has been raised in many ways 
(and rarely explored) by many anarchist intellectuals 
including, most pertinently, David Graeber, who has 
argued that, as Simon Critchley has retold it, “Marx- 
ism is typically a theoretical or analytical discourse 
about revolutionary strategy, whereas anarchism can 
be understood as an ethical discourse about revolu- 
tionary practice” (2008: 125). It therefore becomes 
apparent that the anarchist identity, and likewise 
anarchist subjectivity, depends, firstly, upon its com- 
mitment to ethics, and therefore all variants of an- 
archism must demonstrate to the best extent pos- 
sible that they have remained faithful to this ethos. 
The ethical task set before the anarchists is one of 
either discovering the latent impulse anew in mani- 
fest content (a questionable enterprise if I may say as 
this subordinates the unique attribute of anarchism 
to a theory and restricts the focus to the logic of de- 
sire; this is what anglophone analysts referred to the 
‘discourse of the analyst’) or else, moving backwards, 
rejecting the premise that radical politics depends es- 
sentially upon caricatures of ontology or epistemol- 
ogy by which Truth and non-being are exaggerated in 
order to uphold certain political effects. The alterna- 
tive is to simply offer no -thing, and to fail in this task 
(in Lacanese, this is a movement from desire to drive). 


the unstable framework 

Anarchy Through Three Discourses 

Table 2.0 outlines the conceptual linkages 
across the three bodies of thought that I have 
touched upon here and that I will continue to 
outline in the remaining essay: 

Table 2.0— 

Place and Process Through Three Discourses 

Ethical Code 



Classical Anarchism 



Base Subjectivist 
Post- Anarchism 



Classical Marxism 


Base Materialist 
Georges Bataille 

Reading from the vertical matrix, within mani- 
fest traditional anarchist philosophy ethics are 
thought to derive from the subjectivity of those seek- 
ing to dismantle a limited selection of apparatuses of 
power (the State, the Church, Patriarchy, etc) from an 
external place of resistance (Humanity, Brotherhood, 
the Proletariat, etc) as the latent desire to dismantle 


all systems of representation and power (Newman, 
2004: 107-26). Oppositional politics of this kind 
tend to take on the characteristics of the hysteric’s 
discourse which, sharing a certain legitimization for 
the rationalization of the master’s discourse (by pro- 
viding an impetus for knowledge in the university), 
can be said to uphold the master’s discourse. As 
Bruce Fink has put it: 

[T]he hysteric goes at the master and 
demands that he or she show his or her 
stuff, prove his or her mettle by pro- 
ducing something serious in the way of 
knowledge [...] Lacan [...] suggests here 
that [the] hysteric gets off on knowledge. 
Knowledge is perhaps eroticized to a 
greater extent in the hysteric’s discourse 
than elsewhere. In the master’s discourse, 
knowledge is prized only insofar as it can 
produce something else, only so long as 
it can be put to work for the master; yet 
knowledge itself remains inaccessible to 
the master. In the university discourse, 
knowledge is not so much an end in it- 
self as that which justifies the academic’s 
very existence and activity. [The] hysteric 
thus provides a unique configuration 
with respect to knowledge (1995: 133). 


the unstable framework 

There is thus the lingering problem of positive 
conceptions of process in the discourse of the 
hysteric to such an extent that the problem of telos 
begins to raise its head once again. It is not for the 
purpose of overcoming or transgressing the master 
(incarnated as the State, the Patriarch, etc) that 
the subject of hysteria provokes the master where 
he is lacking (that is, in the master’s knowledge) 
but precisely for the purpose of maintaining a 
distance from the responsibility the subject has to 
overcome or transgress — the problem of the master 
is too difficult for the hysteric to overcome. Jacques 
Lacan, lecturing to the revolutionary students of 
Paris in May, 1968, had this to say: “Revolutionary 
aspirations have only one possibility: always to end 
up in the discourse of the master. Experience has 
proven this. What you aspire to as revolutionaries 
is a master. You will have one!” (Lacan in Julien, 
1994: 64). If it were merely a question of opposing 
any of these independent nodes of power from 
the standpoint of any number of identities then 
manifest anarchist subjectivity would also be the 
subjectivity of that which it opposes. 

Hysterics, as Bruce Fink argues, “get off on 
knowledge” (1995: 133), they are intent on 
“push[ing] the master — incarnated in [the State, 
Church, Patriarch, etc] — to the point where s(he) 
can find the master’s knowledge lacking” (Fink, 


1995: 134). The hysteric thus retains the trad- 
itional answer to the question of place — in that the 
subject adopts, what Lacan has described as ‘false 
being,’ a fantasy of being which is an image grant- 
ed to her through her service to the master’s de- 
sire — as well as the traditional answer to the ques- 
tion of process — in that the subject has not come 
to terms with where her own knowledge or desires 
are lacking: “[t]he hysteric maintains the primacy of 
subjective division, the contradiction between con- 
scious and unconscious, and thus the conflictual, 
or self-contradictory, nature of desire itself” (Finks, 
1995: 133). The subject has therefore only post- 
poned rather than come to terms with the trauma- 
tizing effects that result from the inevitable ruptur- 
ing of the fragile imaginary ego formation. 

The problem of manifest anarchism is further 
outlined by Todd May: 

[Wjithin the anarchist tradition, the con- 
cept of politics and the political field is 
wider than it is within either Marxism 
or liberalism [...] For Bakunin, the two 
fundamental power arrangements to be 
struggled against (along with the capital- 
ists) were, as his major work indicates, 
the state and the church [...] To these 
later anarchists have added plant man- 
agers, patriarchy and the institution of 


the unstable framework 

marriage, prisons, psychotherapy, and a 
myriad of other oppressions (Todd May, 

1989: 168-9). 

To be sure, there are times when one reads 
Bakunin with an eye for the particular manifesta- 
tions of his ethics, as in the case of his writings 
on the State and Church — “[tjhe Church, on the 
authority of all priests and most politicians, is es- 
sential to the proper care of the people’s sons; and 
the State is indispensable, in their opinion, for the 
proper maintenance of peace, order, and justice [...] 
[a]nd the doctrinaires of all schools exclaim in chor- 
us: ‘without Church or Government, progress and 
civilization is impossible’” (Bakunin, 1867/1871). 
But there are also times when the latent reading of 
the tradition has manifested itself more clearly as a 
latent impulse acting through the manifest content 
of traditional anarchist texts. As I have written else- 
where, sometimes the latent force flashes like light- 
ning through the manifest language. We catch a 
glimpse of it just long enough to wonder if, beneath 
all appearances, there is a secret agent among us. 

It should be said that some post-anarchists, 
such as Reiner Shurmann and Daniel Colson, have 
hitherto conflated the explicit with the implicit, 
even where, in select writings, representation and 
power are at the centre of the discussion (as in 


many of Bakunin’s writings). Colson, for instance, 
has argued that anarchist subjectivity has always 
been distinguished from modem(ist) subjectivity 
according such that: 

[T]he modem subject is unified, contin- 
uous and homogeneous. It exists in just 
one form, duplicated by as many copies 
as there are individuals. Conversely, the 
anarchist subject is multiple, chang- 
ing, and heterogeneous. Its forms vary 
constantly in size and quality. It is most 
often collective even when it is individ- 
ual, and regards the individual, in the 
commonplace sense, as a largely illu- 
sory figure in its many metamorphoses 
(Colson, 1996). 

Colson’s reading, much like Schurmann’s, 
comes from a blending of anarchist ethics with 
outside sources including Heidegger, Kierkegaard, 
Bruno Latour, etc. In seeking to discover the implied 
anarchist impulse inherent to these foreign works he 
misattributes the latent anti-authoritarian impulse 
of anarchism as the most prominent manifest one 
thus obfuscating the distinction between latent and 
the manifest. This problem, I believe, has to do 
with situating traditional anarchist thought outside 
of the confines of modem thought, especially with 


the unstable framework 

regards to its traditional answer to the question 
of place and process. Modernity, which is most 
accurately understood as a paradigm of thought 
to be distinguished from modernism as a counter- 
movement in thought, implies that there is also a 
modem anarchism and this is the problem Colson 
has in his theory. There is a form of anarchism 
that responds in various ways to the paradigm 
of modernity and then there are those that begin 
from the presumptions inherent to the modem 
paradigm. Schurmann also erred in his description of 
Foucauldian anarchist subjectivity, but in doing so he 
described quite well what a meta-ethical framework 
derived from latent anarchist desires might actually 
begin to look like: 

Foucault has constituted himself as an 
anarchistic subject in displacing the 
boundary lines tacitly taken for granted, 
such as between the normal and the 
pathological or between innocent and 
guilty. His anarchism through discursive 
intervention bespeaks what is possible 
today, but not what is obligatory; not an 
‘ought.’ ‘The search for a form of moral- 
ity acceptable by everyone in the sense 
that everyone would have to submit to it, 
seems catastrophic to me’ (Schurmann, 

1985 : 546 ). 


While the emphasis has been on the individual 
as the ethical actor — as Todd May has put it, u [h] 
ere lies the a priori of traditional anarchism: trust 
in the individual [...] [f]rom its inception, anarch- 
ism has founded itself on a faith in the individual 
to realize his or her decision-making power morally 
and effectually” (May, 1989: 172) — this subjectiv- 
ist ethics (which, ironically, May does not end up 
endorsing in his book) has come at the price of a 
great contradiction: 

With anarchism, as we have seen, there is 
an essential antithesis between the pure, 
uncontaminated place of resistance — con- 
stituted by essential human subjectivity 
and natural human society — and the place 
of power [...] Manichean logic is, therefore, 
the logic of place: there must be an essential 
place of power and essential place of resist- 
ance [...] Can we not see, then, that in an- 
archist discourse the state is essential to the 
existence of the revolutionary subject, just 
as the revolutionary subject is essential to 
the existence of the state? [...] The purity 
of revolutionary identity is only defined in 
contrast to the impurity of political power 
(Newman, 2007: 47-8). 11 

11 I should say that this is not necessarily true of the “newest social 
movements” (Day, 2005). 


the unstable framework 

It becomes apparent that the implied place 
from which ethics are thought to derive in trad- 
itional anarchist philosophy refers also to the ex- 
plicit place from which ethics are thought to derive 
in much of post-anarchist philosophy — each share 
an elaboration of ethics as place and each presup- 
pose an ethical rejection of essence or identity as 
representation or authority; namely, each reject 
ontological essentialism. In this sense, traditional 
anarchists understood that, at some level, they were 
against power and representati on but rarely di d they 
express this outside of the narrow framework of a 
limited set of derivatives using the epistemological 
and ontological toolkits of the given socio-historical 
paradigm. On the other hand, it is within the latent 
reading of place in the post-anarchist literature that 
a rewriting of the manifest ontology of traditional 
anarchism has taken hold: a reconstitution of place 
as constitutively empty. 

George Bataille’s contribution has been to ex- 
tend the latent reading, even while remaining faith- 
ful to its potentiality, toward a radical conception of 
being as non-being that follows through on what its 
philosophy set out to do. Bataille could be no more 
explicit on this point, his goal was to describe the 
principles of non-place outside of the framework 
of the subject through his rewriting of materialist 
philosophy. Bataille argued that “[wjhen the word 


materialism is used, it is time to designate the dir- 
ect interpretation, excluding all idealism, of raw 
phenomena, and not a system founded on the frag- 
mentary elements of an ideological analysis, elab- 
orated under the sign of religious relations” (1985: 
16). Bataille wanted a materialism that remained 
unhinged from all idealistic systems — an indescrib- 
able materialism that is always out of grasp, never 
revealed in the epistemologies of philosophy. Thus, 
through Bataille we not only reject the problem of 
ontological essentialism, as we do after the post- 
anarchist intervention, but also the problem of 
epistemological foundationalism. 

It is at the level of process that ethical no- 
tions of place become retroactively coded with sig- 
nificance. For example, within the latent sphere of 
place in post-anarchist philosophy — which is really 
nothing other that the ‘post-’ or ‘meta-’ itself — the 
latent process of what, for the sake of usefulness, 
I will call heterogeneity (a term used by Bataille; 
this term will be further elaborated in an upcom- 
ing section), is introduced in order to combat the 
homogeneity of traditional Manichean subjectivity. 
Within the restrictive codes of traditional anarchist 
philosophy one finds a latent negative commitment 
to combating all forms of power and representa- 
tion including the power over mobility locked into 
the isolated notion of place. However, manifest 


the unstable framework 

descriptions of place in traditional anarchist phil- 
osophy have prefigured a movement of homogen- 
eity in the concept of place. Post- anarchists have 
corrected this by both implying and enacting the 
principle of heterogeneity in various ways and, in 
doing so, conforming to the process outlined by 
Georges Bataille. In this way both traditional an- 
archism and post-anarchism appear to be unbal- 
anced meta-ethical discourses (each unbalanced at 
opposite ends of the alignment between the axes 
of place and process). George Bataille’s philosophy, 
on the other hand, achieves a balance and retro- 
actively fulfills the latent ethical injunction inherent 
in traditional anarchism. Bataille’s philosophy fills 
in the obvious missing row in my elaboration of the 
relationship between place and process. 

Recently, Benjamin Franks has argued that, 
within anarchist meta-ethics, there have been com- 
peting tendencies between “individualist or ‘philo- 
sophical’ anarchisms [which] are often based on 
deontological theories, which privilege a discourse 
of ‘rights’ and ‘individual autonomy’ [and] social 
anarchisms [which] are often either consequential- 
ist [...] and thus prioritize good social outcomes — or 
prefigurative [...] and as such are more consistent 
with practise-based virtue ethics” (2008b: 135). 12 

12 In exploring this distinction it appears as though Franks has only 
reposed the problematic account of ‘lifestyle versus ‘social anarchism’ that 


Here, as my preliminary response, there are as yet 
two other options: (1) an ethics of base subjectiv- 
ism, as opposed to a purely subjectivist model, and 
(2) an ethics of base materialism, as opposed to a 
purely materialist model. Rather than select the one 
over the other — although I maintain that the latter is 
the realization of the ethics inherent in the former — I 
would like to remain undecided between the two. 

“Ethics,” saidJohnD. Caputo, “hands outmaps 
which lead us to believe that the roadis finished and 
there are superhighways along the way” (Caputo, 
1993: 4). I am now tempted to change Caputo’s 
line to this: ‘Ethics produces being where there is a 
disavowal of non-being, and then hands out discur- 
sive maps which lead us to believe that the road to 
heaven is finished and that there are superhighways 
along the way’. Caputo continued, “Deconstruction 
issues a warning that the road ahead is still under 
construction, that there is blasting and the danger 
of falling rock” (Caputo, 1993: 4): the anarchist 
tradition issues a warning that there is no road, only 
swamp and a feral human nature. Massimo Pas- 
samani, an insurrectionary anarchist, brought this 
point home: “In the face of a world that presents 
ethics as the space of authority and law, I think that 
there is no ethical dimension except in revolt, in 

Bob Black has criticized in his book Anarchy After Leftism (1997) and also 
in his most recent book Nightmare of Reason (2010). 


the unstable framework 

risk, in the dream” (Passamani, [2010]). Anarch- 
ism, as the ethics of the real, rejects the dreams of 
imaginary others and in so doing rejects all positive 
conceptions of ethics. Post-anarchism is the mani- 
festation of a negation that traditional anarchism 
set in motion long before. It is the meta-ethics of 
traditional anarchism. Post- anarchism is the real- 
ization of this meta-ethical rejection of ethical dis- 
courses in traditional anarchist philosophy. 

In writing this I am brought back to an article 
entitled “On Metaethics: A Reverie” (1996) by a 
well known meta-ethicist by the name of Francis 
Sparshott. Sparshott attributed a Kuhnian relation- 
ship to the development of meta-ethical founda- 
tions and systems: “a period of confusion [wherein] 
normal science [is] displaced by revolutionary sci- 
ence, in which one or all of the elements in the old 
consensus are rejected in favour of new claimants; 
and this revolutionary science, if it succeeds in win- 
ning acceptance, hardens into a new paradigm with- 
in which a new kind of normal science is established” 
(Sparshott, 1996: 35). We may say that traditional 
anarchism as a manifest philosophy is the normal 
science of anarchism whereas post- anarchism is the 
revolutionary science that never settles. Only with 
the separation of post- anarchism from classical an- 
archism would the possibility of the marriage and 


settling of post- anarchism into classical anarchism 
have been possible. Moreover, only with this subse- 
quent marriage of post-anarchism and classical an- 
archism is the displacement of the marriage possible 
and the inauguration of the new post-anarchism: 
post-post-anarchism as post-anarchism. 

Sparshott continued, “New and old paradigms 
are strictly incommensurable, in that neither accepts 
the standards by which the other would condemn it; 
but the historical displacement is irreversible, since 
the forces that made the revolution succeed as sci- 
ence must be real, though neither paradigm can con- 
tain them” (Sparshott, 1996: 35). Strictly speaking, 
these are the effects of what I have termed anarchy, 
the elusive subject matter of anarchist philosophy 
after post- anarchism. However, Sparshott’s aim was 
to translate the Kuhnian theory into a philosophical 
metaphor for novelty: “Public or radical philosophy 
attacks whatever may seem to be a pressing intel- 
lectual problem without systematic regard for what 
philosophy departments are up to — including the 
academic conventions about what radical philoso- 
phy would be” (Sparshott, 1996: 35). Here I am 
tempted to describe post-anarchism as an attack on 
the system of knowledge that is at once the ration- 
alization of the master’s will from without the acad- 
emy and also the imperative of the rationalization 
of the master through the production of knowledge 


the unstable framework 

from within the academy. Sparshott’s model consti- 
tutes a break from epistemology as such, and it puts 
in process a radical system of non-knowledge. The 
problem of rationalization constitutes a rejection of 
desire as the irrational force of the species, a betray- 
al of the fundamental source; any ethical movement 
is in the end illusory, a fantasy, just as “a scientific 
revolution is in the end successful or illusory, much 
as a political revolution finds it has to take over or 
replace the extant bureaucracy and somehow do all 
or most of what it did” (Sparshott, 1996: 36). 

It is in this sense that post-anarchism is ‘in- 
surrectionary’ rather than ‘revolutionary.’ By revo- 
lutionary, I mean to refer to political revolutions 
rather than epistemological revolutions. Stimer 
described the difference between insurrection and 

Revolution and insurrection must not be 
looked upon as synonymous. The former 
consists in an overturning of conditions, 
of the established condition or status, the 
State or society, and is accordingly a pol- 
itical or social act; the latter has indeed 
for its unavoidable consequence a trans- 
formation of circumstances, yet does not 
start from it but from men’s discontent 
with themselves [...] The Revolution 
aimed at new arrangements; insurrection 


leads us no longer to let ourselves be 
arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and 
sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’ 
(Stimer, 1907). 

The problem is the reproduction in still purer 
form of the alienation of the species at the hands of 
any number of particular manifestations of power. 
In serving the academy one risks feeding it with 
precisely that which it simultaneously rejects and 
internalizes as its sustenance: 

Philosophy has no warrant unless it is to 
be the ‘pursuit of wisdom’, the constant 
rectification of understanding and the 
elimination of systematic sources of er- 
ror. ‘Normal’ philosophy admits the pos- 
sibility of ‘revolutionary’ philosophy not 
merely in principle but as its most funda- 
mental part; whatever a radical philoso- 
phy proposes turns out to be something 
the academic discipline has merely put 
on hold, rather than rejected. As in most 
professions, however, the most deeply 
subversive moves are accepted only if 
they are made by authorized wi elders of 
the paradigm, in a suitable tone of voice 
(Sparshott, 1996: 36). 


the unstable framework 

In this sense anarchism admits the possibility 
of post- anarchism as its most fundamental part and, 
moreover, post-anarchism admits the possibility of 
post --post- anarchism as its most fundamental part. 
In this sense, post- anarchism is anarchism of the 
second-order, a rejection of the rationalization of the 
master’s will and, subsequently, it is revolutionary 
philosophy (or what I have termed ‘insurrectionary’ 
philosophy): “in its undisguised form [it is] intoler- 
able to those vocationally engaged in normal phil- 
osophy, because it throws away all the real gains that 
reflection has made in a coherent evolutionary his- 
tory” (Sparshott, 1996: 36). Post-anarchism, like 
radical philosophy, occurs “outside the limited areas 
where normal science [or anarchism] is carried on, 
[where] a fruitful chaos [still] reigns, where there are 
no agreed paradigms” (Sparshott, 1996: 36). Post- 
anarchism is therefore the meta- ethics of anarchism 
par excellence because it is the home of meta-ethics 
itself, the politics that meta- ethics was seeking, just 
as meta-ethics is the haven post- anarchist politics 
have been attempting to describe for so long. Meta- 
ethical philosophy is understood as the calling into 
question of the supposed paradigms of normal phil- 
osophy without necessarily predicating this on the 
grounds of critique (cf., Sparshott, 1996: 38-9). 
The promise of post- anarchism is the development 
of new ways of thinking about old ideas on the sub- 


ject of anarchism, recirculating frozen signifiers, let- 
ting a little anarchy into the mix. 


the unstable framework 


A Case for the Centrality of Ethics 

This chapter serves to introduce the body of 
literature in post-anarchism while highlighting 
the latent ethical foundation that it shares with 
traditional anarchist philosophy. The former 
must be provisionally understood as the return of 
anarchist ethics as it is realized in the ethical assault 
on ontological essentialism. Post-anarchists, such 
as Saul Newman, have argued, in various ways, 
that “[tjhe problem of essentialism is the political 
problem of our time” (Newman, [2001] 2007: 4). 
I have already argued that this is a problem that 
begins from within the foundation and system of 
meta-ethics, and that essentialism is thus a meta- 
ethical position. If these propositions are correct 
then it becomes further possible to describe post- 
anarchism as the new form of anarchism that 
unearths one of the many possible manifestations 
of the latent impulse inherent to traditional 
anarchist thought. In this sense, post-anarchism 
describes what is new about traditional anarchism 
today but it does not, at least by this standard 
alone, abandon what is old in traditional anarchism. 
Post-anarchism must be understood as a discursive 
paradigm, that is, as a loose assemblage of (often 


times contradictory) ethical claims. 

Post- anarchism, as a meta-ethical response to 
traditional anarchist philosophy, has as its point of 
departure one of two non-ethical a prioris: epis- 
temological and ontological. Hereafter, we must 
distinguish between three points of departure for 
anarchist philosophy: epistemological, ontological, 
and, finally, meta-ethical (as a strange synthesis 
between the former philosophical domains). Thus, 
to begin from a place of ethics does not preclude 
an epistemological defence of anarchism nor does it 
forbid the ontological defence, it merely subsumes 
these beneath the meta-ethical a priori. This has 
always been the latent, and at times also quite ex- 
plicit, preoccupation of traditional anarchist pol- 
itical philosophy but the consequence of this pre- 
occupation — an attack on essentialism, toward an 
embrace of the accidental — has not yet been fully 
realized. The significance of its realization has 
been discovered before the significance of its dis- 
covery has been realized. I will briefly review some 
of the literature in order to highlight the differing 
philosophical points of departure. 

Some post-anarchists, such as Andrew Koch 
and Todd May, have argued that any ontological 
conception of human nature or community has 
authoritarian implications: “[post- anarchism] chal- 
lenges the idea that it is possible to create a stable 



ontological foundation for the creation of universal 
statements about human nature [...] claims [that] 
have been used to legitimate the exercise of power” 
(Koch, [1993] 2011: 24). Interestingly, Koch, here, 
implies that what is needed is a relativist discourse. 
Todd May has similarly argued that ontologically 
rooted conceptions of power in traditional Marx- 
ist philosophy (what he called a ‘strategic political 
philosophy’; ie, the idea that power emanates from 
a central location, operating uni -directionally, to 
repress an essentially creative human nature) have 
served to legitimize vanguardist interventions into 
politics: “if the fundamental site of oppression lies 
in the economy [or, as in the case of anarchist phil- 
osophy, the state; namely, in any (series of) central 
location(s)], it perhaps falls to those who are adept 
at economic [or state, etc] analysis to take up the 
task of directing the revolution” (May, 2008c: 80). 
If we take, as our point of departure, an essential- 
ist ontology of the subject, as in humanist philoso- 
phy, we “thus undermine at a stroke the subject’s 
transparency, voluntarism, and self-constitution” 
(May, 2008c: 80) and provide ample philosophical 
support for the subject’s constitution by vast appar- 
atuses of power. In short, May argued that we fall 
back into a crude structuralism as the harbinger of 
a form of philosophical determinism. Suffice to say, 
May believed that the denial of the subject’s self- 


constitution is also the promotion of an authoritar- 
ian ethical framework. Likewise, if we begin from an 
essentialist ontology of the object (the state, patri- 
archy, the church, etc), we greatly reduce the politic- 
al field and embrace an oppositional relationship of 
dependence that mutually constitutes the anarchist 
subject and the anarchist object (Newman, 2001: 
47-8). Richard J. F. Day has argued that May’s ap- 
proach is accurate in its critique (and novel in its 
marriage of anarchist and post- structuralist phil- 
osophy) but it replaces one problematic philosoph- 
ical framework for another equally problematic one 
grounded in Habermasian intersubjective rational- 
ity: “The fatal problem [...] is that [he] cannot im- 
agine how a commitment to fight domination can be 
shared without recourse to universal intersubject- 
ive reason [...] At worst, it risks falling back into the 
Enlightenment humanist trap of responding with 
‘reasonable’ and ‘justified’ violence to all who refuse 
to play by its rules” (Day, 2001: 26). May’s meta- 
ethical framework thereby failed in its insistence on 
providing “binding rules of conduct” for the subject 
(Day, 2001: 24-6). 

Daniel Colson argued that anarchist subjectiv- 
ity is at odds with the dominant paradigm (what he 
refers to as ‘the modem paradigm’): “The anarch- 
ist subject is multiple, changing, and heterogeneous” 
(Colson, 1996). At its core, according to Colson, the 



anarchist subject is anti -authoritarian, resistant to 
the universalist and totalizing premises of modernist 
ethics. Colson focused on the ontological dimension 
by rewiring the cogito ergo sum of traditional anarch- 
ist and humanist political philosophy in an important 
way, but he did not properly ground this approach 
in any meta- ethical framework. Instead he described 
an ontological point of departure: the anti -modernist 
anarchist subject as some kind of Deleuzian ma- 
chine. Likewise, Saul Newman offered a radically 
ontological point of departure for post- anarchist re- 
jections of ontological essentialism. He described the 
anarchist subject as composed of a ‘radical lack’ at 
the heart of its being: 

This lack or void which constitutes the 
subject is not, however, a fullness or es- 
sence. It is, on the contrary, an absence, 
an emptiness — a radical lack [...] it is a 
nonplace that resists essence because it 
does not allow a stable identity to arise. 

The subject can never form a complete or 
full identity (2001: 140-2). 

While I do not reject this ontology — indeed 
I think it provides an important ingredient for the 
type of approach that I am trying to advance — it 
does not elaborate the anti -authoritarian ethic as 
the primordial condition motivating the anarchist 


critique of essentialism, and even if it did begin to 
sketch out such an ethical system it would inevit- 
ably fail because of its a priori rejection of univer- 
salism in favour of a crude post-structuralist rela- 
tivism. Newman’s ontology did not describe the 
motivating conditions that have led to his assault 
on traditional conceptions of being and knowledge. 
He thereby risks rejecting the traditional anarchist 
discourse in its entirety (and, as we shall see, this 
ethical component is what constitutes the unique 
core of its discourse amongst a chain of political 
equivalences). A Lacanian may describe the ethics 
as the c factor of anarchist political philosophy. As 
Lacan put it, u [i]n the symbolic order, first of all, 
one cannot neglect the importance of the c factor 
which, as I noted at the Congress of Psychiatry in 
1 950, is a constant that is characteristic of a given 
cultural milieu” (Lacan, 2006b: 204). In a word, 
the c factor describes what is central and consist- 
ent to any milieu. In any case, Newman was aware 
of this limitation and he pointed toward future re- 
search in the area: 

While the possibility has been created, 
then, for a non-essentialist politics of 
resistance to domination, it remains an 
empty possibility. If it is to have any pol- 
itical currency at all [...] [i]t must have an 
ethical framework of some sort — some 



way of determining what sort of political 
action is defensible, and what is not. [...] 

Is it possible to free ethics from these 
essentialist notions while retaining its 
critical value and political currency? This 
is the question that the anti -authoritar- 
ian program must now address (2001: 

I believe that Newman was correct, this is the 
fundamental question for post-anarchists, and it 
is one that has not been adequately addressed by 
any of the prominent post- anarchist writers. In- 
stead we find an epistemological point of departure 
in the work of Andrew Koch ([1993] 2011) and 
Todd May (2011), epistemological and ontological 
points of departure in the work of Saul Newman 
(2009, [2001] 2007, 2004) and an ontological 
point of departure in the work of Daniel Colson 
(1996), hakim bey (1993) and Reiner Schurmann 
(1986, 1985). It will be important to further ex- 
press the rejection of epistemological approaches 
and to further develop a meta- ethical foundation 
for the ontological approaches but before doing so 
I must make some mention of the criticism directed 
toward post-anarchism as a new discourse on trad- 
itional anarchism. 


New Anarchism and the Reduction 
of the Classical Tradition 

The new paradigm of anarchist philosophy, 
which is what many of us are calling post-anarch- 
ism (cf., Evren in Rousselle & Evren, 2011; Call, 
2010; Call in Rousselle &Evren, 2011; Call, 2002: 
65), is fuelled by an overarching ethical injunction 
against the fantasies of representation inherent to 
projects built upon positive ontological founda- 
tions. The claim must now be made: if anarchist 
social philosophy is to remain relevant today, an- 
archists will need to embrace that which has his- 
torically distinguished their tradition from other so- 
cial and political traditions — anarchism has always 
been distinguished from other political traditions, 
especially Marxist and Liberal (for this argument 
see Day, 2005: 14, 127; May, 1994: 57), on the 
basis of its commitment to an anti -authoritarian 
ethos — in a word, anarchists will need to reconsti- 
tute anarchism as an ethical discourse relevant for 
the contemporary world by reattaching itself to its 
own latent ethical imperative while simultaneously 
updating its manifest content in the wake of the 
development of post-modem society. Lewis Call, 
describing an anarchism suited to the contempor- 
ary world, argued that “[i]t is becoming increas- 
ingly evident that anarchist politics cannot afford 
to remain within the modem world. The politics 
126 post-anarchism 

of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin — vibrant and 
meaningful, perhaps, to their nineteenth- century 
audiences — have become dangerously inaccess- 
ible to late twentieth- century readers” (Call, 2002: 
117). Anarchist writing must be brought into ac- 
cord with the complexities of post-modernism. 

I have suggested that post- anarchism presents 
a new reading of the traditional anarchist discourse. 
The development of a distinctly post-anarchist phil- 
osophy was thought to have emerged out of what 
David Graeber has called ‘new anarchism’ (Evrenin 
Rousselle & Evren, 201 1). Any umbilical cord that 
once attached David Graeber (2002) to the term 
‘new anarchism’ has now been cut. In an email cor- 
respondence, Graeber insisted: 

If I end up being considered the source 
of something like ‘new anarchism’ (not 
even a phrase I made up, it was invented 
by the editor of NLR [New Left Review\, 
since you never get to make up your own 
titles in journals like that), that would be 
a total disaster! (Graeber, 2010). 

We must rethink the newness of post-anarch- 
ism. The supposed newness of post-anarchism has 
been put into question for at least three interrelated 
reasons: first, there is the problem of the abandon- 
ment of traditional anarchist discourse in favour of 


some redemptive ‘fresh’ and ‘contemporary’ dis- 
course — the implication is that traditional anarchist 
philosophy is replaced by post-structuralist political 
philosophy. This, for example, is probably what Todd 
May meant when he argued that “post-structuralist 
theory is indeed anarchist [...] It is in fact more con- 
sistently anarchist than traditional anarchist theory 
has proven to be,” (May, inRousselle &Evren, 2011). 
Second, there is the problem of the appearance of 
transcendence by the post- anarchist discourse with 
respect to the traditional discourse: ‘it is not good 
enough that anarchism has been abandoned but 
now post-structuralists believe that their discourse 
is superior to traditional anarchist discourse!’ Finally, 
there is the belief that post-anarchism represents 
a ‘newness’ that can not be discovered from within 
the traditional discourse as it is read today (as Jesse 
Cohn & Shawn Wilbur have argued, in deconstruct- 
ive fashion, “[tjhere is almost complete inattention 
to the margins of the ‘classical’ texts, not to mention 
the margins of the tradition [...] Such ‘minor’ theor- 
ists as Gustav Landauer, Voltairine de Cleyre, Josiah 
Warren, Emma Goldman, and Paul Goodman, to 
name just a few of those excluded, would seem to 
merit some consideration, particularly if the project is 
a rethinking of ‘normal anarchism’” (Cohn & Wilbur, 
2003). Of course, the question must be raised as 
to what/whom constitutes the anarchist canon and 



at which point of exhaustion can one be said to be 
representative of such a tradition (I will broach this 
question shortly). I shall address these misconcep- 
tions throughout this section but for now I will sug- 
gest that post- anarchism is merely the contempor- 
ary realization of what it was that made traditional 
anarchism a unique discursive body and that this is 
primarily what constitutes its novelty. Others have 
described this new form of anarchism as a “paradigm 
shift within anarchism” (Purkis & Bowen, 2004: 5; 
also see Evren in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 4). Can 
we at least provisionally admit that anarchism is not 
a tradition of canonical thinkers but one of canonical 
practices based on a canonical selection of ethical 
premises? If this is the case, the paradigm shift that 
erupted at the broader level and made its way into 
the anarchist discourse, as ‘post-anarchism,’ allowed 
for the realization and elucidation of the ethical com- 
ponent of traditional anarchist philosophy. 

Elsewhere I have argued (as Saint Schmidt, 
[2007] 2008) that the critics of post- anarchism 
(in particular: Antliff, 2007; Cohn & Wilbur, 2003; 
Cohn, 2002; Day, 2005; Franks, 2007; Kuhn, 
2009; Sasha K, 2004; Zabalaza, 2003), 13 whether 

13 The relationship between critics, proponents, and ambiguous 
endorsers of post- anarchism is a complicated one. Critics also 
demonstrate support at times and vice versa. There is the further 
complication of post-anarchism being a discourse that many adopt 
simply by writing from within the current paradigm. 


by directing their criticism exclusively against post- 
anarchism’s prefix (the supposed ‘newness’) or by 
directing it toward post-anarchism’s reduction of the 
classical anarchist tradition, have pursued problem- 
atic lines of critique. With regards to the first man- 
oeuvre, the critics have fluctuated between two mu- 
tually exclusive arguments, the first of which was that 
post-anarchism represented an attempt to rescue 
the presumed inadequacies of an increasingly stale 
orthodoxy (Cohn & Wilbur, 2003). This critique 
focused on the implied claim that post- anarchism 
has represented an attempt to abandon classical or 
traditional anarchism while at the same time, and 
quite ironically, the critique focused on the implied 
claim that post- anarchism represented an attempt 
to rescue traditional anarchism from its own demise. 
The obvious question one should ask to the critics is: 
which is it, abandon or rescue ? 

With regards to the second manoeuvre, some 
critics have interrogated what they saw as the 
reductive elements that were found to be at the core 
of the post-anarchist narrative. It should be noted 
that most of these critiques have aimed squarely 
at Saul Newman (and in particular his book 
From Bakunin to Lacan, see Newman, 2001) 
rather than more broadly at the post- anarchists 
as a whole — excluding, for example, the non- 



Anglophone post-anarchists out of Spain, Germany, 
and Turkey (see my interviews with Silreyyya Evren 
from Turkey, Jurgen Mumken from Germany, 
and Anton Fernandez de Rota from Spain, 2011 
in Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies, 
called “A Virtual Post-Anarchism Roundtable”). 
Therefore, a word of caution is in order: to reduce 
post-anarchism to only that which has been 
expressed by Saul Newman, or to Anglophone post- 
anarchists alone, is to fall victim to precisely the 
attitude Newman sought to avoid. There is also the 
more obvious problem of reductionism as the very 
condition of meta- explorations of the anarchist 
tradition. To explore a discourse one must inevitably 
trace its contours. This practice is not unusual for 
anarchists: as I have claimed in the preface to my 
book on post-anarchism, “critics should be made 
aware of their own reduction of the post-anarchist 
body of thought” (Rousselle in Rousselle & Evren, 
2011: viii). Despite all of this, as Silreyyya Evren 
has pointed out: 

There was an ‘anarchist canon’ which 
existed before the post-anarchist at- 
tempts at ‘saving’ it. And it seems like an 
important task to decode the biases af- 
fecting information on what is anarchism, 
what represents anarchism, and the an- 
archist canon. How do exclusions work 


within knowledge production processes 
on anarchism? What are the structural 
assumptions behind the canonization of 
anarchism? Most of the known works 
on post-anarchism in English, which 
were fundamentally disapproved of by 
anarchists for misrepresenting anarch- 
ism, were in fact taking the given histor- 
ies about anarchism for granted. Cliche d 
notions of classical anarchism were not 
some invention of post-anarchists keen 
on building straw-person arguments 
from reductions in the traditional canon 
and discourse. Instead of accusing some 
post- anarchists for employing problem- 
atic conceptions of anarchism, I would 
like to ask where those conceptions ac- 
tually came from in the first place (Evren 
in Rousselle & Evren, 201 1: 10-11). 

Evren’s argument is that the reduction of 
the classical tradition to any number of select 
representatives or readings is already there within 
the classical texts. That this was the founding for 
post-anarchism’s introductory period does not in 
any way discount post- anarchism’s further critique 
of essentialism and reductionism even while it is 
representative of such a tendency. 



In fact, this tendency continues within the 
‘anarchist studies’ milieu itself. In Contemporary 
Anarchist Studies : An Introductory Anthology of 
Anarchy in the Academy (Amster et ah, 2009), 
for example, the editors delineate three forms 
of anarchism in the introduction of the book, as 
the book’s very foundation: “classical anarchism” 
(Amster et al., 2009: 2-4), “1960s- 1970s 
anarchism” (Amster et al., 2009: 4), and 
“contemporary anarchism” (Amster et al., 2009: 
4-5). Why, here, does the reduction of classical 
anarchism to a monolithic whole founded within 
a particular lineage of time or as the reduction of 
classical anarchism to a selection of writers (here, 
the usual writers are selected, including Proudhon, 
Bakunin and Kropotkin) go unchallenged as 
the problematic of contemporary anarchist 
studies ? The 196 Os -197 Os version of anarchism 
broadened the ethical commitments of anarchists, 
according to the introduction of this book, as 
they “began fanning out in new [sic?] directions 
as a result of theoretical engagements with radical 
anti-racism(s) and feminism(s), Situationism 
[sic], developments in Marxism, and the like [...] 
Anarchists began generating critiques of ‘work’ 
in and of itself, challenging the assumed logic of 
classical working class politics” (Amster et al., 
2009: 4-5). Finally, what the editors describe 


as “contemporary anarchism”, a post-Seattle 
version of anarchism, appears to be another way 
of describing “post-anarchism” (perhaps we 
may say that anarchists simply have anxieties 
over the prefix ‘post-’): “Some anarchists have 
continued to develop general critiques of leftism, 
formal organization, essentialism, identity politics, 
civilization, hierarchy, and capitalism, to take just a 
few examples” (Amster et al., 2009: 5). But these 
examples, taken together, describe the overarching 
tendency of the post- anarchist discourse. Despite 
the reduction of classical anarchism and the 
anarchist canon, the editors do not question the 
critique, made by Gabriel Kuhn, that “much of [the 
post-anarchist] critique of of ‘traditional/classical’ 
anarchism seems to focus on an effigy rather than 
a vibrant and diverse historical movement” (Kuhn, 
2009: 21). It strikes me that Evren is correct: the 
strategy pursued by the post-anarchists was already 
there within our anarchist history books — and it will 
be long before this problem disappears. This is the 
problem that post-anarchism brought into view. 

Whatwe ought to take note of is thatthe critics 
are themselves suspicious of reductionist and essen- 
tialist strategies on the part of the post-anarchists. 
Many of the critics have mined the classical trad- 
ition for post- anarchistic tendencies without daring 
to call this approach post-anarchist. Perhaps the 



exemplar of this trend is Jesse Cohn who has recent- 
ly argued that “anarchists have pretty much always 
been interested in and actively theorizing about and 
investigating the kinds of things that now get called 
‘cultural studies’” (Cohn, n.d.). This approach is 
interesting because the discipline that we now call 
Cultural Studies is a new construction of the uni- 
versity and so what Cohn is expressing is a new way 
of reading old traditions. This therefore highlights 
the way in which post- anarchists use contemporary 
discourse to reinvigorate classical quandaries. In any 
case, the traditionalists have therefore only exposed 
the extent to which they shared in the defining at- 
titude of post-anarchism. Far from a mere overnight 
transformation of anarchist priorities and even fur- 
ther from a rejection or replacement of traditional 
anarchism, post- anarchism has more simply been a 
concept used to describe what has always already 
been going on within anarchist movement 14 (Purkis 
& Bowen, 2004; esp pp. 15-17). 

Kuhn, for example, argued that “[tjhere is [a] 
difficultly with the postanarchist label, namely the 
suggestion that the junctions of anarchism and 
post-structuralism/postmodernity as laid out by 

14 There is a problem of classifying the anarchist’ assemblage — are 
we a movement?, are we a ‘we?’, ‘the’ movement?, a movement of 
movements?, a milieu? For this thesis I have opted to use the term 
‘anarchist movement’ to signal a relation to the question of process. 


Newman [...] are new, when, in fact, they are not” 
(Kuhn, 2009: 21). What I have argued, is that this 
newness is never in fact entirely new sensu stricto 
but rather a redefinition of something that was pre- 
viously thought unimportant or hidden amongst 
the old. It is naive, at best, to argue that the post- 
anarchists have moved beyond traditional anarch- 
ism. Thus, we may find post- anarchist readings at 
the margins of this or that writer but the question 
we must ask is one which Siireyyya Evren has al- 
ready asked: ‘why now do we find these readings 
and not yesterday?’ (Evren, in Rousselle & Evren, 
2011: 10-11) and ‘why, after the emergence of 
these new readings today, do anarchists continue 
to selectively define traditional anarchism accord- 
ing to a limited perspective?’ What bothered Kuhn, 
it seems, was the audacity of creating a new label 
(even while it represents a return to traditional an- 
archism) and that Newman dares to call his ap- 
proach original when others have in fact already 
discovered these lines of flight elsewhere. However, 
if the fate of post-anarchism depends exclusively on 
the currency of its label, we shall have no fear, for 
post-anarchism is nothing other than anarchism 
folded back onto itself, and if the anarchist tradition 
by some measure demonstrates a desire to reflect 
back upon itself with the same amount of effort, we 
shall be all the better for it. 



Post- anarchism describes the slow movement 
of this trend during the contemporary period. How- 
ever, it is my belief that we will always feel the need 
to define a traditional anarchist discourse and an 
anarchist discourse that investigates its own trad- 
ition — the former is the enactment of anarchism 
in the non-anarchist world while the latter is the 
enactment of anarchism against itself. Nonethe- 
less, there is certainly some truth in Kuhn’s argu- 
ment, the German post-anarchist Jurgen Mumken 
has agreed: “the different theoretical considerations 
(poststructuralist anarchism, postmodern anarch- 
ism, etc) that are nowadays summarized as ‘post- 
anarchism’ are older than the term itself” (2005: 
11). There is thus nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with 
Ruth Kinna and Alex Prichard’s call for anarchists 
to return to the past rather than to embrace what is 
new and what is filtered through the European lens 
(2009: 280-9). This is what post-anarchism is 
all about, rewriting and rereading the past, finding 
things we missed along the way and highlighting 
things that we read/wrote wrong for so long. Our 
texts, just like our practices (and soon enough we 
shall with some confidence add, ‘just like our eth- 
ics’) are a system of possibility. 

We may say that the critics were mostly re- 
sponding to, and vitally a part of, the introductory 
period of post- anarchism, as described by Evren: 


[W]e tend to see that today’s post-an- 
archism is in an introductory period. For 
example, all [...] post-anarchist works 
operate with an excuse; they behave as 
if a justification were needed for bringing 
anarchist and post- structuralist philoso- 
phy into dialogue with one other. They 
explain their motivation for constitut- 
ing post-anarchism as a distinct area of 
specialization by resorting to their belief 
that their area of study is thought to be 
irrelevant to both academic and anarchist 
circles. Legitimization of a need to iden- 
tify with a post-structuralist/postmodem 
anarchism is felt to be required before 
research is further conducted (Evren, in 
Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 12). 

This introductory period was marked by an os- 
tensibly problematic comparison to Marxist theory. 
Evren argued that “they [May, Call, Newman] all 
legitimize post- anarchism by first trying to show 
that Marxist theory has collapsed or failed or it was 
too problematic to rely on [...] This means Marxist 
theory was presupposed as the norm, the ground for 
comparison” (Evren, in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 
12.). Simon Choat, in agreement with Evren, has 
also argued that “[i]f we are to attribute any kind 



of unity to postanarchism, then we must look to 
other factors — one of which, I contend, is a com- 
mon opposition to Marxism” (Choat, 2010: 54). I 
believe that post-anarchism’s anti-Marxist qualifi- 
cation stems from its implied ethical project rather 
than its need to define itself apart from another 
political discourse. Just as ethical actors reflect on 
their second order ethics, anarchists may reflect on 
their anarchism from the second order. As I have 
argued, anarchism has been to ethics what Marxism 
has been to strategy. Perhaps, then, the anti -Marx- 
ist sentiment in the introductory period of post-an- 
archism is derived not especially from its need for an 
opposed tradition upon which to ground and defend 
its own but precisely for the expression of its unreal- 
ized latent dimension, ethics. How better to qualify 
the uniqueness of a project if not by comparing it to 
a trend which fundamentally differs from its own? 
This does not disqualify the uniqueness of the trad- 
ition from which the comparison stems but it does 
allow for the realization of the unique core that con- 
stitutes each as distinct from all others. 

It is the ethical standpoint that has been 
repressed by the anarchist tradition (and post- 
anarchism we shall say is a return of the repressed). 
The anarchist reliance on ethics has the status of an 
absurdity, in the Freudian sense, and, truth be told, 
occurs as an absurd joke. The nature of this type of 


joke is revealed in the following punchline: 

Two Jews meet in a railway carriage at a 
station in Galicia. ‘Where are you travel- 
ling?’ asks the one. ‘To Cracow,’ comes 
the answer. ‘Look what a liar you are!’ 
the other protests. ‘When you say you’re 
going to Cracow, you want me to be- 
lieve that you’re going to Lemberg. But I 
know that you’re really going to Cracow. 

So why are you lying?’ (Freud, [1905] 

2002 : 110 ). 

The problematic is thus that the truth is inher- 
ent in the performance of the lie: “Is it truth,” asked 
Freud (Freud [1905] 2002: 110), “when we de- 
scribe things as they are, without bothering about 
how our listener will understand what we have said?” 
The point here is that the listener, based on previous 
encounters with his interlocutor, assumed that his 
question would be answered with a lie (from which 
he would deduce the truth), and so when he was 
told what he actually regarded to be the truth, his 
assumption was rendered absurd. Freud was not 
arguing for some naive hermeneuticism but rath- 
er for the absurd function of the truth inherent to 
the lie: “according to the un- contradicted assertion 
of the first [Jew], the second one is lying when he 
speaks the truth, and speaks the truth by means 



of a lie” (Freud [1905] 2002: 1 11). We may say 
that the ethical standpoint of traditional anarchist 
philosophy has the absurd status of a joke and con- 
stitutes the unique core within which marks its c 
factor. Contemporary anarchists have never much 
cared to develop their meta- ethical philosophy and 
yet they have taken care to describe it as an ethical 
one — so, when the anarchists tell us that they are 
an ethical tradition, obvious and hackneyed as this 
presupposition at once appears, what reason do we 
have to take them seriously? It is in this sense that I 
call the absurd ethics of anarchism its absent centre: 
it is the lie that sustains belief in the stability of the 
discourse and the tradition. 

As I have argued (and as I will argue in more 
depth shortly), there is a presumed consensus 
amongst anarchist authors that ‘anarchism is to 
ethics what Marxism is to strategy’, but one might 
wonder why anarchists have presumed their eth- 
ics rather than developed them into a meta-ethical 
framework upon which to build their strategy (a 
question initially raised by Todd May, 1994: 64). 
No doubt, this is important and difficult work — re- 
turning to the ethical core of the anarchist tradition 
in light of contemporary issues — and very few an- 
archists have begun this exploration with any de- 
gree of explicitness (although Benjamin Franks is 
making real gains in this area; cf., Franks, 2011, 


2008a, 2008b, and 2007; also see the book An- 
archism and Moral Philosophy, Franks & Wilson, 
2010), this research is central to our tradition and 
yet it remains largely undeveloped: what constitutes 
traditional anarchist meta-ethics? It appears at least 
that anarchists have simply adopted Petr Kropot- 
kin’s meta-ethics as their own — reenacting the dis- 
course of ‘mutual aid.’ 

Kropotkin and the Absent Centre of 
Traditional Anarchist Political Philosophy 

The claim has been made ad infinitum that 
anarchism is principally an ethical tradition. 15 On 
this point there have been very few clear responses 
to the question of the meta- ethical framework of 
traditional anarchist philosophy. Instead, most 
responses have tended to assume an ethics of 
practice (Berkman, 1929: Chapter 28 et passim\ 
Franks, 2008a, 2008b; Graeber, 2004; Guerin, 
1970; May, 1994: 121-55 et passim). But 
anarchists have more often assumed their ethics 
rather than developed them into a coherent 

15 A few examples, among many, include: Anonymous, 2009; Antliff, 
2007; Aragorn!, 2009a, 2009b; Berkman, 1929: Chapter 28 et passim; 
Bookchin, 2006; Bookchin, 1998; Bookchin, 1994; Bookchin, 1987: 129; 
Call, 2007; Critchley, [2007] 2008: 93, 125; Critchley, n.d.: 24; Franks, 

2011; Graeber, 2004: 5, 12, 14, 49; Graeber, 2007: 254; Grubacic & Graeber, 
2004; Kropotkin, 1922, 1910, 1902; Rocker, 2009; Tucker, 1973. 



foundation and system (May, 1994: 64), and thus, 
as I shall try to show, they have a real debt to pay to 
the late nineteenth century writings of the Russian 
anarchist Petr Kropotkin. 

The anarchist author Herbert Read has argued 
that, with Kropotkin, u [n]o better history of eth- 
ics has ever been written” (as cited in Woodcock 
& Avakumovic, 1971: 420). Kropotkin, whom we 
may say is the originator and exemplar of the trend 
in practical ethics, has described an ethics of ‘mu- 
tual aid’ as the general condition and organization 
of the survival of the species. According to Kropot- 
kin, there can be discovered, beneath the destruc- 
tive manifest structure of the state, an organization 
of life that ought to be allowed to blossom or, at the 
very least, to be mirrored or protected. This form 
of naturalism ostensibly “removes ethics from the 
sphere of the speculative and metaphysical, and 
brings human conduct and ethical teaching back 
to its natural environment: the ethical practices of 
men in their everyday concerns” (see the “Transla- 
tor’s Preface” in Kropotkin, 1922). It has proved 
important to the development of an exclusive con- 
ception of ethics as practical, positive, and orderly 
within traditional anarchist discourse. Kropotkin’s 
influence is far reaching and his ideas have cast a 
long impregnable shadow over traditional anarchist 
discourse. Might I suggest, as Lacan has done with 


his work on ‘Kant avec Sade’, that Kropotkin’s work 
may be read as the moral injunction which allows 
for a Stimerian moment to occur in anarchist phil- 
osophy?: Kropotkin avec Stimer. 

Two fundamental questions were to be ad- 
dressed by Kropotkin in his Ethics and, for this rea- 
son, his book was to be subdivided into two parts ac- 
cordingly (see “Introduction by the Russian Editor,” 
in Kropotkin, 1922). He proposed first to respond 
to the question of place — his central question was 
“whence originate man’s moral conceptions?” (Kro- 
potkin, 1922) — and this motivated the writing of 
his first volume before his death. Kropotkin urged 
his readers “to consider the question of the origin 
and the historical development of morality” (Kro- 
potkin, 1922). This latter question, on the historical 
development of morality, related to the question of 
process — his central question was “[wjhatis the goal 
of the moral prescriptions and standards?” (Kropot- 
kin, 1922) — and was the motivation for his attempt 
at writing a second volume. This final book would go 
unwritten. We are informed by the Russian Editor 
that “Kropotkin planned to devote [his final book to] 
the exposition of the bases of realistic ethics, and its 
aims” and that he wanted to produce a book that 
would engage with the popular radical philosophies 
of his time (Kropotkin, 1922). Unfortunately, this 
venture was interrupted by his death. 



Kropotkin posited a universal foundation, 
discoverable through the empirical method, as 
the basis for the moral life of the species. The 
problematic of positive meta-ethics in his work thus 
appears across two main registers: first, there is the 
overarching problem of universalism, and; second, 
there is the problem of empiricism. The former 
problem reveals an answer to the question of place 
while the latter reveals an answer to the problem 
of process. If, in continuing through my argument, 
Kropotkin’s ethics have been the absent centre of 
traditional anarchist discourse, then it will be shown 
that this does not necessarily mean that Kropotkin’s 
ethics were universal and/or empirical in their 
latent determinations. Just as my approach rejects 
the subjectivist reduction of truth to the ethical 
subject, I also reject the manifest truth apparent in 
hermeneutical readings of ethical texts. There are at 
least two ways to respond (and these responses are 
not mutually exclusive) to Kropotkin’s ethics today: 
one may reject Kropotkin’s manifest ethics and/or 
one may reconstruct Kropotkin’s ethical writings 
by revealing their latent determinations. The latter 
approach involves the former. I shall pursue the 
latter ‘post-Kropotkinian’ path in accordance with 
the latent reading of the anarchist tradition that I 
have been unearthing until this point. 

John Slatter has argued that Kropotkin’s work, 


especially his “La Morale Anarchiste” (written in 
1 890, hereafter referred to as “Anarchist Morality”), 
was “principally [...] a ferocious attack on existing 
moral systems, all of which are seen as essentially 
self-serving justifications for the existing distribution 
of power and wealth” (Slatter, 1996: 261). There 
is thus room to suggest that Kropotkin’s work now 
reveals a latent dimension as well as a traditional 
manifest dimension. If it can be demonstrated that 
Kropotkin’s system of ‘mutual aid’ also called for the 
restriction of the free movement of the individual 
then it can also be argued that his work, like much of 
traditional anarchist philosophy, was always at war 
with itself. Slatter took Kropotkin at his word when 
he argued that “[anarchists must] bend the knee to no 
authority whatsoever, however respected [...] accept 
no principle so long as it is unestablished by reason” 
(Kropotkin as quoted in Slatter, 1996: 261). Here, 
however, Kropotkin’s rationalism was maintained but 
only to reveal a useful parallel: “The appeal to reason 
rather than to tradition or custom in moral matters 
is one made earlier in Russian intellectual history 
by the so-called ‘nihilists’” (Slatter, 1996: 261). 
Like Kropotkin, the Russian ‘nihilists’ (or “The New 
People”, as they were called) 16 adopted a rationalist/ 
positivist discourse as a way to achieve a distance 

16 Thanks to Aragorn! for bringing me up to speed on the history of 
the Russian nihilists. 



from the authority of the church and consequently 
from metaphysical philosophies. The meta- ethics 
of Kropotkin’s work (note: not his first order ethics) 
thus reveals, not ‘mutual aid,’ but a tireless negativity 
akin to the spirit of the Russian nihilists: “[according 
to Kropotkin, the anarchist must] fight against 
existing society with its upside-down morality and 
look forward to the day when it would be no more” 
(Kropotkin as cited by Slatter, 1996: 261). 

The epitome of this post-Kropotkinian gesture 
is perhaps Allan Antliff’s reading of Kropotkin’s 
meta-ethics. According to Antliff, Emma Goldman 
(whom Hilton Bertalan has considered one of the 
foremost post-anarchists; cf., his essay “Emma 
Goldman and ‘Post-anarchism’” in Rousselle & Ev- 
ren, 2011: 208-30) “counted [...] Kropotkin [...] 
among her most important influences, so it is ap- 
propriate we turn to him for further insight” (Ant- 
liff, 2007; also in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 161). 
However, given this, we must wonder to what extent 
the Kropotkinian influence in her whting allowed 
for the Stimerian/Nietzschean tendency and vice 
versa — which side of the divide can we truly pos- 
ition her, for it is difficult to consolidate views unless 
we choose the Stimerian pole: the Stimerian pole 
does not necessarily reject the usefulness of first or- 
der ethics to the ego, but the Kropotkinian pole does 
not allow for the autonomy of the ego. One can be 


a subjectivist and sacrifice oneself to any number of 
moral systems but the reverse does not hold. 

The source of Kropotkin’s meta-ethics, accord- 
ing to Antliff, is “the libertarian refusal to ‘model 
individuals according to an abstract idea’ or ‘muti- 
late them by religion, law or government’ [and thus 
allowing] for a specifically anarchist type of morality 
to flourish” (Antliff, in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 
161). Antliff therefore reads beyond the restrictive 
interpretation of Kropotkin’s manifest ethics and 
finds something buried beneath the fabric. For in- 
stance, the revolt against the ‘abstract idea’ was 
similar to the revolt against abstract moral systems 
in Stimer’s work (cf., Newman, 2004c). What is 
more is that there is a tangential reference to spe- 
cifically nihilist forms of ethics in Antliff’s essay: 
“his morality entailed the unceasing interrogation of 
existing social norms, in recognition that morals are 
social constructs, and that there are no absolutes 
guiding ethical behavior” (Antliff, in Rousselle & 
Evren, 2011: 161). Interestingly, Antliff views this 
as Kropotkin’s Nietzschean side (ibid.). Might we 
consider Goldman, then, a post- anarchist proper in 
that she chose the Stimerian dimension in order to 
consolidate her views on Kropotkin’s ethics? 

There is yet more evidence provided for a post- 
Kropotkinian interpretation. The Russian editor of 
Kropotkin’s Ethics has argued: 



Many expect that Kropotkin’s Ethics will 
be some sort of specifically ‘revolution- 
ary’ or ‘anarchist’ ethics, etc Whenever 
this subject was broached to Kropotkin 
himself, he invariably answered that his 
intention was to write a purely human 
ethics (sometimes he used the expres- 
sion ‘realistic’) (italics in original; “Intro- 
duction by the Russian Editor,” in Kro- 
potkin, 1922). 

We should fully consider this distinction be- 
tween ‘human’ ethics and ‘anarchist’ ethics — de- 
spite that we are often led by anarchists to believe 
that Kropotkin’s ethics were ‘anarchist,’ are we not 
now to believe that Kropotkin was primarily con- 
cerned with outlining an ethical system that re- 
sponded to the dominant non-religious philosophy 
of the time. Kropotkin’s ethics were a humanist eth- 
ics of evolution (mutual aid, we were told, is a factor 
of evolution) but these ethics ought not be reduced 
to this exclusive interpretation. In keeping with the 
post-Kropotkinian framework, Jesse Cohn & Shawn 
Wilbur (2003), and Benjamin Franks (2008a), 
have suggested, in each their own way, that Kropot- 
kin’s work on ethics was an attempt to “open up a 
space for benevolent social action against the real- 
ism of conservative social Darwinists, who held that 


the battle for survival determined all social behavior” 
(Franks, 2008a: n.p.). Brian Morris, whom has been 
considered a foremost scholar on Kropotkin, also 
supported this view and has argued that: “Darwin’s 
evolutionary naturalism form[ed] the basis and the 
inspiration of Kropotkin’s own ethical theory” (Mor- 
ris, 2002: 427). In this sense, Kropotkin was not 
so much overturning the Darwinian current of his 
time but rather reformulating it into a more anarch- 
istic worldview — he was negating what he felt to be 
the authoritarian dimension of Darwin’s thesis (the 
competition model). Thus, if one intends to work 
from within Kropotkin’s work (whatever its limita- 
tions), as in ^o^-Kropotkinist meta-ethics, rather 
than to abandon his premise in full, one can per- 
haps begin by reinterpreting the concept ‘sociality’ 
as it was used by Kropotkin. Morris has made great 
advancements in this area: 

[“Sociality,” in Kropotkin’s writings,] 
did not imply that human nature and 
human subjectivity expressed or were 
manifest of some unchanging ‘essence’. 
Indeed, the conflation, by postmodern- 
ist scholars, of human ‘nature’ as ex- 
pressed in evolutionary theorists like 
Kropotkin, with the metaphysics of Pla- 
to and his concept of ‘essence’ (Eidos) 
is quite fallacious. For Kropotkin as for 



contemporary evolutionists [...] humans 
are characterized not by some eternal, 
supra-natural Platonic essence (benign 
or otherwise) but by an evolving human 
nature that exhibits increasing levels of 
both sociality and individuality (Morris, 
2002 : 431 ). 

The redefinition of ‘sociality’ brings ethics into 
the domain of sociology and cultural studies but it 
does not necessarily remove speculation from the 
domain of the empirical sciences. For this reason 
Morris’s reinterpretation remains tied exclusively to 
the manifest content. Morris’s interpretation finds 
Kropotkin to be a blatant empiricist. Any future 
interpretation will have to find inventive new strat- 
egies for overcoming the problem of empiricism in 
Kropotkin’s work. In any case, the problem of the 
reduction of Kropotkin’s metaphysics to humanism 
is concomitant with the problem of the reduction of 
science to empiricism, as Lacanians have been fond 
of pointing out. One might therefore find that Kro- 
potkin’s scientism was a much stronger voice than 
his empiricism. The empirical sciences operate from 
within the imaginary order and therefore encourage 
manifest imaginaries such as the benign human be- 
ing, while constituting this as a gross reduction of 
truth. As Dylan Evans has put it: 


Lacan has a Cartesian mistrust of the im- 
agination as a cognitive tool. He insists, 
like Descartes, on the supremacy of pure 
intellection, without dependence on im- 
ages, as the only way of arriving at cer- 
tain knowledge. [...] This mistrust of the 
imagination and the sense puts Lacan 
firmly on the side of rationalism rather 
than empiricism (Evans, 1996: 85). 

The problem of Kropotkinian ethics should 
therefore be layered upon a higher order of abstrac- 
tion. We may say that our post-Kropotkinian read- 
ing provides us with a vantage that Kropotkin’s me- 
ta-ethics were not necessarily about humanism nor 
were they necessarily about empiricism — these were 
merely strategies adopted against a highly suspect 
and rapidly emerging paradigm of thought. Kropot- 
kin’s adoption of empiricism was strictly a means 
to distance himself, through science, from religious 
authority. Morris described what I have termed Kro- 
potkin’s meta-ethics (or, if you like, latent ethics): 
“As an evolutionary naturalist, Kropotkin took it for 
granted that moral concepts were extremely varied 
and were continually developing” (Evans, 1996: 
428). Morris’s reading of Kropotkin is that his eth- 
ics were to some extent flexible and open to con- 
tingency. Morris continued, “Kropotkin never saw 



moral principles as conveying absolute truths, only 
as ‘guides’ to help us to live an ethical life” (Evans, 
1996: 437). In this sense, whether as guides or as 
metaphors, Kropotkin’s meta-ethics reveals an at- 
tack on all moral principles which finally frees the 
unique individual to live an ethical life. There is 
reason to believe that Kropotkin’s ethics oscillated 
between two moments of truth: on the one hand he 
felt compelled to respond, reform, and/or revolu- 
tionize the dominant paradigm of the time and this 
was his first order ethics (a performance of his latter 
meta- ethical system), and on the other hand he felt 
compelled to underline that his manifest ethics were 
not set in stone, that they were merely an enactment 
of a certain passion for the negative. 

It is therefore a safe conclusion to insist that 
Kropotkin’s manifest ethics should not necessarily 
be reduced to the anarchist ethic for at least three 
reasons: first, Kropotkin himself argued that his 
work on ethics was ‘humanist’ rather than ‘anarch- 
ist’ and this distinction can be read within the spec- 
trum of the latent/manifest distinction rather than 
the banal interpretation of anarchist ethics as the 
realization of what makes us ‘human.’ Second, Kro- 
potkin’s ethics are a product of the time and context 
in which Darwin’s competition thesis was gaining a 
foothold. In this respect, Franks (2011) has claimed 
that “rationalist, naturalist and to a lesser extent in- 


tuitionist, responses were adopted by classical an- 
archists [...] because they provided an alternative to 
the hierarchical and statist moral teachings justified 
by the church.” Finally, given my second claim that 
Kropotkin’s ethics were situated uniquely within a 
context, Kropotkin’s ethics were only one possible 
manifestation of an attack on the authoritarian 
foundations and systems that have been influencing 
society — other anarchist attacks were also present 
during this paradigm, including, for example, the 
inventive meta-ethics of Max Stimer (whose work 
Kropotkin alludes to several times in his Ethics). 

Yet we know very well that specifically anarch- 
ist ethics were once a concern for Kropotkin — at 
least while writing and publishing the individual 
chapters for his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evo- 
lution (1902), a time when, before publishing in 
book form, he was happy to call his approach an 
anarchist one. In one such essay, “Anarchist Mor- 
ality” (1897) he began to describe an apt under- 
standing of latent ethics that ought not necessarily 
be reduced to the remainder of the text: 

The history of human thought recalls 
the swinging of a pendulum which takes 
centuries to swing. After a long period of 
slumber comes a moment of awaken- 
ing. Then thought frees herself from the 
chains with which those interested — rul- 



ers, lawyers, clerics [dare we say, moral- 
ists?] — have carefully enwound her. She 
shatters the chains. She subjects to se- 
vere criticism all that has been taught to 
her, and lays bare the emptiness of the 
religious, political, legal, and social preju- 
dices amid which she has vegetated. She 
starts research in new paths, enriches our 
knowledge with new discoveries, creates 
new sciences (Kropotkin, 1897). 

However, this reading is opposed to Kropot- 
kin’s own view that “did not recognize any separ- 
ate ethics; he [Kropotkin] held that ethics should be 
one and the same for all men” (Kropotkin, 1897). 
Kropotkin’s latent nihilist meta-ethics thereby came 
into conflict with his manifest universalist eth- 
ics. Kropotkin did not want to adopt the subjectiv- 
ist/relativist response to the question of process in 
meta-ethics. But we have learned from the post- 
anarchists that the universal discourse is rather a 
particular discourse inscribed as hegemonic, and 
so, with this in mind, Kropotkin perhaps had greater 
ambitions in mind than simply the egoist pursuit of 
happiness: he wanted to subvert the dominant para- 
digm in full, replacing it with a softer, more anarch- 
istic, ethic that was fuelled by the negative impulse. 
The trajectory of anarchist philosophy de- 


mands that we continue through this Kropotkinian 
movement and envision it as a particular embodi- 
ment of a wider tendency. Anarchist ethics, guided 
by its meta-ethical core, also demands that we rec- 
ognize Kropotkin’s ethics as one node in a histor- 
ical lineage of struggle rather than as the node upon 
which all of our tradition is supported, even if this 
node is unstable and destined to failure. During fu- 
ture meta-ethical readings of Kropotkin’s ethics we 
must be guided by the following question: what is 
the source of his anarchist morality? This question, 
I believe, reveals answers that are much more inter- 
esting than Kropotkin’s intended line of investiga- 
tion (ie, ‘what is the source of human morality?’). 
Here, the confusion is with the latent impulse of his 
writing within the lineage of anarchist thought and 
the manifest morality consigned to his name. 

It is worth highlighting the authoritarian di- 
mension of Kropotkin’s manifest ethics, because 
Kropotkin has asked the unique individual to sac- 
rifice herself, her very being, to the binding rules 
of conduct in the principle of ‘mutual aid.’ Meta- 
ethical critiques of his work, stemming as early as 
1925, have focused on Kropotkin’s essentialism 
and his disregard for the freedom of the individ- 
ual. George Boas’s critique is perhaps the (earliest) 
exemplar of this trend: “[Kropotkin] is more inter- 
ested in the species than in the individual. Mutual 



aid, justice, self-sacrifice are, by definition, of value 
largely to the race. They may even prove the annihi- 
lation of the individual” (Boas, 1925: 245). Boas 
continued to highlight the essentialism inherent to 
Kropotkin’s work, “[i]t is important to read [Kropot- 
kin’s Ethics\ if only to see how it casts in high re- 
lief that pathetic faith in human beings and nature 
which sweetened the lives of our fathers” (Boas, 
1925: 248). Boas even went so far as to argue that 
Kropotkin’s work ignored the latent dimension of 
man [sic] as a creature who is by nature entered 
into a social relationship to an ‘other’ within him- 
self (in the Kierkegaardi an/Freudian sense of an 
unconscious) (Boas, 1925: 248). Boas’s early cri- 
tique is instructive but it does not follow through on 
its own premise: Boas failed to highlight what ap- 
peared within the unconscious of Kropotkin’s writ- 
ing, he restricted his reading to an objective truth, 
to ‘symptom.’ In doing so, Boas and others have 
produced inadequate accounts of Kropotkin’s work. 
What follows is the revealing of this problematic 
reading as an account of the manifest text. We 
shall see that Kropotkin’s ethical notion of sacrifice 
is quite different from the meta-ethical notion of 
sacrifice found in the writings of Georges Bataille. 

Kropotkin argued, in “Anarchist Morality” 
(1897), that what “mankind admires in a truly 
moral man is his energy, the exuberance of life 


which urges him to give his intelligence, his feeling, 
his action, asking nothing in return” (Kropotkin, 
1897). This is certainly an ethical response (to give 
‘without return’ from the pit of one’s being) and yet 
the authoritarian dimension of Kropotkin’s impera- 
tive — epitomized, in some ways, in the Levinasian 
“ethics of responsibility” (cf., Zizek, 2005) — is re- 
vealed in the notion of self-sacrifice. How else to 
instigate anarchist morality if not by force and co- 
ercion, if not by self-repression and self-sacrifice? 
For, on the one hand, the Stimerian egoist sacrifices 
things which she owns, but she does not thereby 
sacrifice her ‘ownness’: as Stimerputit: 

I can deny myself numberless things for 
the enhancement of his pleasure, and 
I can hazard for him what without him 
was the dearest to me, my life, my wel- 
fare, my freedom [...] Why, it constitutes 
my pleasure and my happiness to re- 
fresh myself with his happiness and his 
pleasure [...] But myself, my own self I 
do not sacrifice to him, but remain an 
egoist and — enjoy him (Stimer, 1907). 

The Kropotkinian mutualist sacrifices her 
‘ownness’ in exchange for her freedom just as 
the academic sacrifices her being in exchange 
for her knowledge, and if she does not do this 



she is thought to be a “monster” (cf., Kropotkin, 
1922), to be the ‘un-man.’ 17 The problem with 
the essentialist foundation, just as the problem 
with the foundationalist process, is the problem of 
the inability to contain this wasteful excrement — 
the negative that bursts out of all attempts to 
conceal it in knowledge. But there is also the 
logical problematic of altruism as outlined by 
John L. Mackie: “[selflessness] takes the form of 
what Broad called self-referential altruism — not 
for others, but for others who have some special 
connection with oneself; children, parents, friends, 
workmates, neighbours in the literally, not the 
metaphorically extended, sense [...jltismuch easier, 
and commoner, to display a self-sacrificing love for 
some of one’s fellow men if one can combine this 
with hostility to others” (Mackie, 1977: 132). 

In “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS,” a 
Friends episode, Phoebe raises the question: is 
there such a thing as a truly selfless act? Phoebe 
believes that there are selfless acts, and so she 
lets a bee sting her ‘so that the bee can look cool 
to his bee friends.’ Unfortunately, the bee died 
soon after stinging Phoebe. According to Mackie, 

17 As Stirner has put it: “Liberalism as a whole has a deadly enemy, 
an invincible opposite, as God has the devil: by the side of man stands 
always the un-man, the individual, the egoist. State, society, humanity, do 
not master this devil” (1907). 


altruism, self-sacrifice in favour of the other, may 
always be rendered a selfish act — but not the other 
way around. Paradoxically, every time we act in the 
name of an other, somewhere a little bee dies. 

Kropotkin’s manifest anarchist ethics can 
therefore only be implemented by way of the ethical 
imperative; to be sure, an ethical imperative that is 
sustained by the explosive selfishness of unique in- 
dividuals. But one does not freely sacrifice, according 
to Kropotkin: one must freely sacrifice. Conversely, 
may we now say that the ethical sacrifice, accord- 
ing to nihilist meta-ethics, is the one that does not 
go philosophized? Is the ethical subject the one 
that does not truly sacrifice herself to knowledge as 
the rationalization and justification of state? Is the 
sacrifice the one that does not get codified into the 
laws of the symbolic order (a veritable ‘ethics of the 
real’)? According to Kropotkin, ethical acts are “ex- 
pressed through altruism and self-sacrifice” (Mor- 
ris, 2002: 425) and this attitude was “exemplified 
in the impulse of a person who plunges into a river 
to save another person from drowning, and with- 
out any thought of personal safety or reward” (ibid., 
432). The veiled authoritarianism of this logic, 
when it is converted from the realm of descriptive 
ethics to prescriptive ethics, as it inevitably will be 
(and has been), is revealed in the metaphorical slave 
who renounces her own life in order to make the life 



of the other that much wealthier. In Morris’s article 
on Kropotkin’s ethics, he writes: “He [Kropotkin] 
was not therefore concerned with semantics, with 
the meaning of moral concepts, issues which fas- 
cinate contemporary philosophers leading them to 
emphasize what is clearly self-evident, namely that 
moral judgements are prescriptive, giving rise to 
ethical theory or prescriptivism” (italics in original; 
2002: 425). The point to be taken here is that Mor- 
ris, in his endorsement of Kropotkin, and critique 
of semantic meta-ethical philosophers, confesses 
a fundamental truth of naturalism: the descriptive 
inevitably collapses into the prescriptive. Phillips 
has likewise argued that “Kropotkin transfers his 
naturalistic observations into a prescription for hu- 
man society” (2003: 143), and so my thesis here 
is not unfounded. What is more, Phillips suggests 
that “Kropotkin’s naturalism, like that of the so- 
cial Darwinists, lies not in describing nature, but in 
creating a metaphor for guiding human behaviour” 
(ibid.). This is the problem with the prescriptive ex- 
trapolation. The problem of this descriptivism is the 
reduction of the accidental attributes of the species: 
our species does not just go to war, nor does the 
species just give themselves away; we also shit and 
piss, masturbate and fuck, ... , and, in the end, the 
future of our species remains unwritten because the 
ethical logic that propels us continues also to fail us. 


Despite the problems inherent to Kropotkin’s 
manifest ethics, his work continues to influence 
anarchist philosophy today. One has only to research 
the most recent lineage of anarchist publications to 
glean this influence. Colin Ward’s book Anarchy 
in Action began with the following provocation: 
How would you feel if you discovered 
that the society in which you would 
really like to live was already here, apart 
from a few little, local difficulties like 
exploitation, war, dictatorship and star- 
vation? [...] [A]n anarchist society, a so- 
ciety which organises itself without au- 
thority, is always in existence, like a seed 
beneath the snow [...] [Ajnarchism [is] 
the actualisation and reconstitution of 
something that has always been present, 
which exists alongside the state, albeit 
buried and laid waste (Ward, 1973: 11). 

Ward’s provocation was steepedinthe rhetoric 
of universal naturalism and it owed a great debt to 
Kropotkin’s ethics. Ward continued this underlying 
motif until his last interview (entitled “The practice 
of liberty”) before his death (cf., Ward, 2010). 

Similarly, Uri Gordon, in his book Anarchy 
Alive!: Anti -authoritarian Politics from Practice 
to Theory (2008), described anarchism as a living 



force in the world that can be located in everyday 
grassroots activism. His critique of post- anarchism 
was that it has no ‘practical’ relevance for contem- 
porary anarchism: “It should be emphasized that 
post-structuralist anarchism remains an intellectual 
preoccupation limited to a handful of writers rather 
than being a genuine expression of, or influence on, 
the grassroots thinking and discourse of masses of 
activists” (Gordon, 2008: 42-3). One is tempted to 
raise the question of the significance of intellectual 
preoccupations — what does this mean? Could it not 
be argued that Gordon’s book was also chiefly an in- 
tellectual preoccupation? If Gordon meant to suggest 
(as I believe he did) that post-anarchism does not 
speak to or influence grassroots thinking, this pre- 
sumes that grassroots thinking is important (a claim 
that would have to be substantiated or elaborated for 
clarification). 18 On the other hand, we have seen that 
this claim is unsubstantiated and that post- anarch- 
ists have written about these points (for a review of 
this literature see Siireyyya Evren’s “Introduction” in 
Rousselle &Evren, 201 1). Spontaneously, anumber 
of post- anarchist responses come to mind: Richard 
J. F. Day’s attempt to describe the post- anarchism 
of the ‘newest social movements’, Tadzio Muel- 
ler’s attempt to define a post- structuralist counter/ 

18 It is to no great surprise that the book has been described as “a 
user’s manual for anarchist activism” (Prichard, 2008). 


anti -hegemony, and Anton Fernandez de Rota’s his- 
tory of post-modem anarchist social movements all 
seem to respond in major ways to this point. How- 
ever, there is a side to Gordon’s writing that I am 
less prone to reject: if, as I have been trying to claim, 
much of contemporary anarchism A post- anarchism 
then it would follow that Gordon’s book is also post- 
anarchistic. This explains the relevance of the chap- 
ter in Gordon’s book, called “Anarchism Reloaded,” 
that reflects a key post-anarchist attribute: the bring- 
ing into question of traditional anarchist philosophy. 
It is with some irony that the Spanish post- anarchist 
Anton Femendez de Rota has also written an es- 
say by the same name (cf., Femendez de Rota, in 
Rousselle & Evren, 2011). We have also described 
the third section of our Post-Anarchism: A Reader 
volume as “Classical Anarchism Reloaded.” Gordon 
explained: “[ajnarchist ideas are constantlyreframed 
and recoded in response to world events, politic- 
al alliances and trends” (Gordon, 2008: 28), and 
this chapter of his book aimed to describe “trends 
and developments in social movement activity over 
recent decades that have led to the revival and re- 
definition of anarchism in its present form” (Gordon, 
2008: 29). He may try to wiggle his way out of this 
one, but Uri Gordon is a post-anarchist. 

However, there are further problems with 
the reduction of anarchism to ‘activist’ ‘social 



movement(s)’. Aragom! has argued that “[n]ot only 
are movement politics an explicitly European con- 
struction (with all that that implies) but the belief 
that as the result of some specific victory (even if that 
victory is at the end of a long campaign) [that] we 
will get a world that reflects our values is utopian at 
best” (Aragom!, n.d.). For similar reasons Richard 
J.F. Day has argued that the anarchist currents of the 
‘newest’ social movements are “not what sociologists 
would call social movements at all [...] Thus there is 
a certain irony in my use of this term, an irony that is 
intended to highlight the shift away from hegemonic- 
ally oriented ‘movements’” (Day, 2005: 8). Finally, 
in a widely contentious article entitled “Give Up 
Activism,” Andrew X has argued that “ [historically, 
those social movements that have come the closest 
to de- stabilising or removing or going beyond cap- 
italism have not at all taken the form of activism. Ac- 
tivism is essentially a political form and a method of 
operating suited to liberal reformism [...] The activist 
role in itself must be problematic for those who de- 
sire social revolution” (Andrew X, n.d.). In Gordon’s 
work, the problem is not the content of the presup- 
position but that the presupposition that has gone 
undeveloped and has been assumed: that grassroots 
activism is what anarchism is all about. 

Peter Gelderloos’s Anarchy Works (2010) 
took “examples from around the world, picking 


through history and anthropology, showing that 
people have, in different ways and at different times, 
demonstrated mutual aid, self-organization, auton- 
omy, horizontal decision making, and so forth — the 
principles that anarchy is founded on” (Little Black 
Cart, 2010). Similarly, Richard Day’s Gramsci 
is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social 
Movements aimed to describe the practices of the 
newest social movements that “open up new pos- 
sibilities for radical social change that cannot be im- 
agined from within existing paradigms,” these new 
possibilities come about through “an orientation to 
direct action and the construction of alternatives to 
state and corporate forms” (Day, 2005: 18). Day’s 
post- anarchism does not necessarily lead to a Kro- 
potkinian ethos but it certainly, through its empir- 
ical ‘from practice to theory’ approach to writing, 
lends itself to this interpretation even while osten- 
sibly reacting against it. And, to provide one more 
example, the lead singer of the band Bad Religion, 
Greg Graffin, has published a new book called An- 
archy Evolution (2010) that takes a naturalist pos- 
ition against Darwinist and theological accounts of 
the development of the human species. 

Also, Purkis & Bowen, in their edited collection 
Changing Anarchism (2004), wrote that their “in- 
tention has been to draw upon a number of valu- 
able pointers that exist in the work of the classical 



anarchists, as well as a number of its enduring prin- 
ciples, and to frame them in new ways” (Purkis & 
Bowen, 2004: 6). Undoubtedly, this makes their 
work firmly within the paradigm of post-anarchism 
but it nonetheless carries with it certain baggage: 
“Even though Kropotkin’s views of human nature 
as being naturally benign and co-operative might 
struggle to stand the test of time [...] there are still 
some grounds for claiming that Kropotkin is the 
‘classical anarchist’ most worthy of continual atten- 
tion” (Purkis & Bowen, 2004: 7). The concern for 
anarchists is that if they do away with Kropotkin’s 
canonical work (particularly the obvious interpreta- 
tion of his work), they will be confronted with the 
question that anarchists have consistently put to 
the side, a question that has been the absent centre 
of their political philosophy — perhaps, they will no 
longer be able to ignore the imaginary meta-ethical 
framework that has provided the lynchpin to their 
discourse. To bring my point to a close, we can see 
that Kropotkin’s influence remains, as an opposing 
current, even within the post- anarchist discourse. 

We may thus describe post- anarchism as a dis- 
course, among others, that has risen to the surface 
within the last 25 years. Post- anarchism is simply a 
concept we have used to describe this radical current. 
In his introduction to the anthology New Perspectives 
on Anarchism (2010), Todd May has argued: “[w] 


hether as a mode of organizing resistance, as a model 
for interpersonal relationships, or a way of thinking 
about politics specifically and our world more gen- 
erally, anarchist thought has once again become 
a touchstone [...] One might want to call this the 
third wave, after the wave of the late 1 800s to early 
1900s and the anarchist inflections of the 1960s” 
(May, 2010: 1). But can we not think of contem- 
porary anarchist thought as being in a relationship to 
some notion of an ‘outside’ (the poles of which will 
be explained momentarily) rather than as the organ- 
ization of resistance, personal relationships and pol- 
itics within prepackaged slots of history? Third wave 
anarchism refers also, therefore, to post- anarchism — 
post- anarchism is third-wave anarchism. 

I believe that I may be permitted the minor 
reduction of describing the discourse surrounding 
anarchist ethics as Kropotkinian and the actual 
‘always already’ existing negative force of anarchy 
as the latent ethics within this discourse. We have 
therefore to distinguish between ‘discourse ethics’ 
and its opposite: the ethical disruption of discourse. 
Anarchists continue to appropriate Kropotkin’s 
ethics, even where they misinterpret his ethics for 
his meta-ethics. This shorthand relieves anarchists 
of the difficult work of having to explain or explore 
their own relationship to ethical discourse. As Todd 
May as put it: 



[W]e can recognize that anarchism’s 
naturalist view of human beings plays 
an ethical role in its political theory [...] 
Moreover, the naturalist justification al- 
lows anarchists to assume their ethics 
rather than having to argue for them. 

If the human essence is already benign, 
then there is no need to articulate what 
kinds of human activity are good and 
what kinds are bad (May, 1994: 64). 

It strikes me that this is precisely what makes 
anarchism’s avoidance of meta- ethical questions so 
relevant: it is at once an avoidance and yet also cru- 
cially an openness or flexibility to all ethical foun- 
dations and systems. As Saul Newman has put it: 
[Ajnarchism is, fundamentally, an eth- 
ical critique of authority — almost an 
ethical duty to question and resist dom- 
ination in all its forms. In this sense it 
may be read against itself: its implicit 
critique of authority may be used against 
the authoritarian cunents which run 
throughout its classical discourse. In 
other words, this ethical ‘core’ of anarch- 
ism can perhaps be rescued, through the 
logic already outlined, from its classical 
nineteenth-century context. For instance, 

as I have already indicated, the critique 
of authority may be expanded to involve 
struggles other than the struggle against 
state domination. [...] Perhaps anarch- 
ism should be read as a series of possible 
contradictions which can be used against 
one another and which can produce new 
possibilities. Kropotkin argues that ‘in- 
ner contradiction is the very condition 
of ethics’. For something to be ethical 
it can never be absolute. Poststructural- 
ism rejected morality because it was an 
absolutist discourse intolerant to differ- 
ence: this is the point at which morality 
becomes unethical (Newman, [2001] 

2007: 166-7). 

This ostensible ‘ethics of inner contradiction’ 
runs counter to the project of manifest anarchist 
philosophy and yet there is a sense in which it is 
its guarantor. May we not, at least provisionally, 
presume that, for anarchism, the ethical injunction 
against authority in all of its forms implies a certain 
degree of flexibility with regards to the proper modes 
of conduct under varying contexts? Moreover, does 
itnot imply, if taken to its limit, the absence ofplace 
and process — the negative foundation and system 
inherent to meta-ethics? The rejection of the meta- 



ethical framework upon which the tradition has 
been built, or the avoidance of the question, is ethics 
proper, a negation of the authority of morality, big 
or small, in all of its forms, however respectful, from 
duty to virtue, anarchism is an endless fountain of 
possibilities because it is founded on the unstable 
foundation and system of no-thing. This is the 
non- absolutist core that is (and always has been) 
traditional anarchism. It is this core that post- 
anarchism attempts to rescue from manifest ethics. 

We can imagine an ethics that never settles 
upon any of the main trends in meta-ethical 
philosophy. It may be said that this accordance 
with the trajectory of a negative ethical force comes 
about as one possible response to the problem of 
the reification of anarchistidentities and the growing 
shopping list of oppressions: the ethical anarchist 
subject who remains at the threshold of the latent 
ethical force will not be as prone as other subjects 
toward the reduction of anarchist practice, identity, 
and structures of power, to any select manifestations. 
In short, she will ensure the life of anarchism as a 
discourse. Before returning to the trends in post- 
anarchist philosophy I would like to make two short 
detours through the meta-ethical philosophies of 
‘virtue anarchism’ and ‘anarchist utilitarianism.’ I 
argue that virtue ethics are an inadequate meta- 
ethical framework for traditional anarchism because 


of an inability to conceive of non-virtuous actions 
as properly ethical responses to given situations. 
Utilitarianism, on the other hand, sacrifices the 
means for the ends of ethical actions and thereby 
poses a more obviously inadequate interpretation of 
traditional anarchist meta-ethics. 

Post anarchist Virtue 

Benjamin Franks’s reply to post-anarchism 
was that it resulted in a form of meta-ethical rela- 
tivism that is ultimately indefensible because of its 
subjectivist orientation (Franks, 2008a, 2008b). 
Elsewhere Franks has argued that post-anarchism 
has an authoritarian core, based on this subjectivist 
framework: “To universally prioritize the practices of 
post- anarchism would be to recreate vanguards and 
hierarchies, structures that both post- anarchism and 
more traditional anarchism reject” (Franks, 2011: 
177). We must temporarily suspend our judgement 
of Franks’s contradictory reading of post-anarchism 
as, firstly, a crude subjectivist relativism and then, in 
his conclusion, a strange universalism, in order to 
expose Franks’s underlying prescription: “Today, a 
more modest version of post- anarchism is required: 
one that views itself as (another) modification of 
anarchism, more pertinent for particular social and 
cultural contexts, but less so in others, rather than 
a categorical suppression” (Franks, 2011: 176). I 



shall return to the problem of reading post-an- 
archism as a categorical suppression of traditional 
anarchism shortly (and I have already argued that 
post- anarchism is already “another modification 
of anarchism [that is] more pertinent for particular 
social and cultural contexts” (Franks, 2011: 176)). 
As a remedy to the problematic ethical foundation of 
post- anarchism, Franks outlined what he thought to 
be a traditionally anarchist form of ethics grounded 
in the social practices of ethical agents, what he 
called ‘virtue ethics.’ 

Franks described a prefigurative anarchism 
based on virtuous social practice that was grounded 
in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. 19 In this reading, 
Franks remained committed to the Kropotkinian 
meta-ethics that “identifies [the] good as being in- 
herent to social practices, which have their own rules, 
which are negotiable and alter over time” (Franks, 
2008b: 147). This, once again, is what Kropotkin 
called ‘sociability.’ Franks shared post-anarchism’s 
critical attitude vis-a-vis universalism, and he was 
indeed in agreement with the post- anarchists when 
he argued that consequentialist, utilitarian, and de- 
ontological ethics have no place in any anarchist 
discourse. Yet he restricted his own ethical system 

19 Thomas Swann has argued that Franks’s approach may contradict 
the overall trajectory of Alasdair MacIntyres own ethical framework (cf., 
Swann, 2010). 


to a means subservient to an end , even while he pro- 
claimed to do otherwise: 

Elements of a virtue theory can be ob- 
served in the oft-repeated principle 
within anarchism that means have to be 
in accordance with (or prefigure) ends. 
Bakunin, for instance, criticised Nechaev 
precisely because the latter could not 
‘reconcile means with ends.’ Prefigura- 
tion avoids the ends/means distinction 
of rights based and consequentialist eth- 
ics; instead the means used are supposed 
to encapsulate the values desired in their 
preferred goals (Franks, 2011). 

The problem is that any a priori concretization 
of ethics, whether in terms of virtue or any loose flex- 
ibility, achieves a coherence of means through ends. 
Essentially, this is Zygmunt Bau-man’s argument 
against certain positive meta-ethical systems: 

The long search for secure [or stable] 
foundations of moral conduct here comes 
full circle. Mistrusting the sentiments 
declared a priori as fickle and mercur- 
ial, the seekers of foundations put their 
wager on the rational decision maker 
they set to extricate from the shell of er- 
ratic emotions. This shifting of the wager 



was intended to be the act of liberation: 
following the emotions was defined as 
unfreedom [...] exchanging the depend- 
ence of action on [irrational] feelings for 
its dependence on reason. Reason is, by 
definition, rule guided; acting reason- 
ably means following certain rules. [...] 

By the end of the day, the moral person 
has been unhooked from the bonds of 
autonomous emotions only to be put in 
the harness of heteronomous rules. The 
search that starts from the disbelief in 
the self’s moral capacity ends up in the 
denial of the self’s right to moral judge- 
ment (Bauman, 1993: 69). 

That which slips out from reason’s grasp is the 
very stuff of ethics and there is no positive meta- 
ethical framework that can, at any time, describe 
or encourage ethical actions through the discourse 
of positivity. I would hazard to flip Franks’s claim 
that post- anarchist subjectivism passes into the do- 
main of authoritarianism into the claim that virtu- 
ous practical ethics, as the rational manifestation 
of the reasoning decision-maker who decides on 
what precisely these virtues amount to, subverts 
the virtue of autonomy held by many anarchist vir- 
tue theorists. Like all positive meta-ethical systems, 


they promote their own failure. Virtues are, after all 
is said and done, subjective — but we can not also 
say that subjectivism is itself a virtue. The problem 
is that Franks was hesitant to define what lists of 
practices are to be considered the ‘good’. On this 
question, we are only instructed that prefigura- 
tive politics falls in line with virtue ethics. But this 
only postpones the question. The inevitable ques- 
tion one should raise to Benjamin Franks is: why 
this avoidance of the manifestation of these virtues, 
what are anarchist virtues? The response will come 
that in rejecting universalism in favour of local eth- 
ics distinct cultures and social groups are able to 
define these virtues using their own discursive lim- 
itations/constructs. This is the utopian dimension 
of Franks’s project, as we know locales will always 
have leaders that will be uprooted by anti - authori - 
tarian subjects and this is precisely why we philoso- 
phize about prefigurative politics — prefiguration is 
primarily an open method of experimentation. We 
do not know how to answer the question of pro- 
cess, that is, what the future society will look like 
and how to get to it. Prefiguration is the assurance 
that ethical principles never objectively settle, that 
unique subjects are able to sort their own ethics in 
the midst of an everyday battle. On this topic Cindy 
Milstein has argued, essentially, that prefigura- 
tion, as an ethical practice, is a negative force — 



“anarchism as a political philosophy excels [...] in 
its ongoing suspicion of all phenomena as possible 
forms of domination, and its concurrent belief in 
nonhierarchical social relations and organization. 
This ethical impulse [...] to live every day as a so- 
cial critic and social visionary [...] certainly infuses 
anarchist rhetoric” (Milstein, 2007) — and as the 
grounding for manifest ethics: “It also underscores 
all those values that anarchists generally share: mu- 
tual aid, solidarity, voluntary association, and so on” 
(Milstein, 2007). Perhaps, to take this argument to 
its conclusion, the virtue of prefiguration ultimately 
collapses into the type of nihilistic spirit that I am 
describing as the system of traditional anarchism. 

There is the further problem of the replace- 
ment of the place of the essential human with the 
place of the virtuous anarchist. For, if one can be 
said to act virtuously, one must as a necessity con- 
struct another categorization which far surpasses, 
indeed escapes, the logic of virtue: the vice. John 
L. Mackie, in his timeless work on meta-ethics, has 
used this logic to attack virtue ethics: 

There can be no doubt that [...] courage 
is in general advantageous to its pos- 
sessor — more advantageous than a ten- 
dency to calculate advantage too nicely. 

In so far as one can choose one’s dis- 
positions — say by cultivating them — this 


is one which it would be rational, even 
on purely egoistic grounds, to choose. 
Admittedly there will be particular occa- 
sions when rashness would be rewarded, 
and others when only the coward would 
survive. But it is hard to calculate which 
these are, and almost impossible to 
switch the dispositions on and off ac- 
cordingly. To be a coward on the one oc- 
casion when courage is fatal one would 
have had to be a coward on many other 
occasions when it was much better to be 
courageous (Mackie, 1977: 189). 

Thus, when Franks argued that “the rules of 
chess, which are different to those of football or 
poker, are not required to be imposed on the players; 
participants merely must share and abide by these 
principles in order to gain the benefits from the 
game, such as improved concentration and patience” 
(Franks, 2011), I am inclined to imagine the 
anarchist who disturbs the entire chess board, kicks 
the referee, upsets the clock, and screams ‘I can play 
more games than you can imagine on my behalf!’ 

Anarchist Utilitarianism: A Minor Detour 

According to Malatesta, “the end justifies the 
means: we have spoken much ill of that maxim [...] 



In reality, it is the universal guide of conduct [...] It 
is necessary to seek morality in the end; the means 
is [sic] fatally determined” (Malatesta, [2010]). 
Through this we have arrived at the underlying 
principle of utilitarianism: the utility of the means 
are valued by the consequences achieved — from 
within the tension of means and ends, in all 
utilitarian meta-ethics there is a conflation of 
means to ends. I do not want to spend a great 
deal of time writing about anarchist utilitarianism 
because I believe its real value for anarchists is self- 
evident (that is, the majority of anarchists are fully 
aware of the limitations of ethical utilitarianism). 
Instead I will briefly go over an admittedly small 
(extremely small) portion of the literature to arrive 
at an understanding of the value of utilitarianism 
for post-anarchist politics. This concept will be 
important for a later section, which explores 
the argument that Bataille’s philosophy did not 
aim to consolidate ends to means, as much of 
contemporary anarchist philosophy aims to do, but 
rather his philosophy aimed to describe an ethics 
without-means and without-ends. I will not refer 
to any of the traditional utilitarian anarchists (ie, 
William Godwin and others), but rather restrict my 
focus to Benjamin Franks’s critique of utilitarianism 
to further elaborate this point. 

The problem is rather obvious. As Franks has 


argued: “The [...] problem is [that] by prioritising 
ends over means, individuals become reduced to 
mere instruments, and are robbed of autonomy and 
dignity” (Franks, 2008a). But this problem reaches 
a new level of complexity under post-modernism 
as the preoccupation with ends are themselves no 
longer sustainable. As Bauman put it, during the 
contemporary period“[i]ssues have no predetermined 
solutions” (1993: 32) and this renders all attempts 
at prefiguring the means with which to achieve 
maximum consequence/utilization naive at best. 
How to, for example, attend to a solution which 
prohibits the manifestation of itself as an issue in 
the first ■place? Similarly, today we no longer know 
how to distinguish between cause and symptom — as 
Lewis Call has argued: “The postmodern anarchist 
views capitalism and statism not as causes but as 
effects, not as diseases but as symptoms” (Call, 
2002: 117) — and symptoms have now taken the 
place of disease. As a consequence we achieve a 
sense in which “the truth of the matter is opposite 
to the one we have been told [...] It is society, its 
continuing existence and its well-being, that is made 
possible by the moral competence of its members — 
not the other way round” (Bauman, 1993: 32). 
Ours is a time in which utility serves only to obscure 
the truth of ethical origin and process, the emptiness 
from whence these processes have emerged: 



In as far as the modem obsession with 
purposefulness and utility and the 
equally obsessive suspicion of all things 
autotelic (that is, claiming to be their 
own ends, and not means to something 
else than themselves) fade away, mor- 
ality stands the chance of finally com- 
ing into its own [...] no moral impulse 
can survive, let alone emerge unscathed 
from, the acid test of usefulness or prof- 
it. And since all immorality begins with 
demanding such a test — from the moral 
subject, or from the object of its moral 
impulse, or both (Bauman, 1993: 36). 

The failure of utility, and more broadly the fail- 
ure of positive meta-ethics, occurs as if it were pre- 
supposed, ironically, from within the meta-ethical 
system. The concept of utility collapses upon itself. 
The critique of this meta-ethics takes its penultim- 
ate deviation in Bauman’s proclamation that: 

There are no hard-and-fast principles 
which one can learn, memorize and de- 
ploy in order to escape situations with- 
out a good outcome and to spare one- 
self the bitter after-taste (call it scruples, 
guilty conscience, or sin) which comes 
unsolicited in the wake of the decisions 


taken and fulfilled. Human reality is 
messy and ambiguous — and so moral 
decisions, unlike abstract ethical prin- 
ciples, are ambivalent. It is in this sort 
of world that we must live; and yet, as 
if defying the worried philosophers who 
cannot conceive of an ‘unprincipled’ 
morality, a morality without founda- 
tions, we demonstrate day by day that 
we can live, or learn to live, or manage 
to live in such a world, though few of 
us would be ready to spell out, if asked, 
what the principles that guide us are, 
and fewer still would have heard about 
the ‘foundations’ which we allegedly 
cannot do without to be good and kind 
to each other [...] Knowing that to be the 
truth [...] is to be postmodern (Bauman, 
1993 : 36 ). 

Apropos of Bauman’s claim that we live day-to- 
day without the ability to spell out the principles that 
guide us, I would like to provide a basic example. I 
share a class at university with some anarchists and 
many non- anarchists. Outside of class, we organize. 
During our meetings outside of the classroom we 
find ourselves preoccupied with the establishment of 
certain democratic practices of consensus: we must 



use a speakers list, we must all come together with 
an agreement about what types of behaviours are 
unacceptable, hostile, and so on. We never really 
do anything, we spend weeks planning how to or- 
ganize and, as a result, nothing ever happens. One 
event that we planned involved a guest lecturer, a 
public lecture for the community. All but two non- 
academicians were present. Of these two non-aca- 
demicians, one was homeless and the other was a 
‘loud’ and provocative speaker. Each interrupted the 
presentation in turn: the one interrupted to ask for 
clarification and to explain why our academic babble 
did not make sense to him and the other interrupted 
precisely to disrupt this process of clarification, to 
complicate things all the more. These exchanges 
made everybody in the room noticeably agitated, al- 
most on the verge of disavowed excitement. The an- 
archists talked about the disruption for weeks, and 
about how to keep something like this from happen- 
ing again. They decided to implement the speaker’s 
list, and so on. The question for me is: why, when 
we attend class every week as students, do we not 
need a speaker’s list? Why do we tolerate the dis- 
ruptions in the classroom? Why does it work in the 
classroom and not in the street? 

I risk the conjecture that contemporary an- 
archists have turned to virtue ethics and prefigura- 
tive philosophy as a way of creating a more flexible 


meta-ethical system. It does not strike them that 
perhaps the answer to place and process deserve a 
simpler and more obvious response: unprincipled 
morality that emerges from no-where in particular is 
the fuel that sustains this juggernaut we call social 
life. This is what post- anarchism reminds traditional 
anarchists: to no longer be seduced by the discourse 
of power. That is, to paraphrase and appropriate 
Bauman’s words, post-anarchism is about the rejec- 
tion of hard-and-fast principles which one can learn, 
memorize and enact (as virtuous practice). Our real- 
ity is messy and unlearned — and so is our meta-eth- 
ical framework. We ultimately reject positive ethical 
principles, abstractions from life, in favour of an eth- 
ics without positive foundations or systems and, like 
good post-Kropotkinians, we demonstrate day by 
day that we can live in such a world. Knowing that to 
be the truth is to be post-anarchist. We thus aban- 
don the positive meta-ethical framework in philoso- 
phy and render obsolete in practice the reduction of 
action to traditional manifest rulebooks. The politics 
of the classroom is a politics awaiting the eruption 
of the street but never able to symbolize it into the 
rulebook of consensus and speaker’s lists. 

Trends in Post Anarchism 

Post-anarchism has more commonly been as- 
sociated with one of two trends over the last two 

184 post-anarchism 

decades: first, and most popularly, it has referred 
to the extension of traditional anarchist philosophy 
by way of interventions into/from post-structuralist 
and/or post-modem philosophy, or; second, and 
most prevalent in the non-anglophone world, post- 
anarchism has been understood as an attempt to ex- 
plore new connections between traditional anarch- 
ist philosophy and non-anarchist radical philosophy 
without thereby reducing these explorations to de- 
velopments from any particular philosophical group. 
According to adherents of this second trend in post- 
anarchist philosophy, post-anarchism is thought to 
be the description of a set of relationships between 
anarchism and an outside world. There have been 
two related ways in which to understand the location 
of this radical outside, each of which is further dis- 
tinguished according to the direction of its influence. 

First, there is the obvious outside, the influ- 
ence of which is felt to come from the ‘innermost 
outside’ of the anarchist tradition; this is the non- 
anarchist outside that is discovered by bringing an- 
archism into a relationship with disciplines outside 
of the narrow field of political sociology (including 
film, music, geography, and others; this is what the 
post- anarchist journal Anarchist Developments 
in Cultural Studies has described as its modus 


Figure 2.0 - The Symbolic Order of Anarchism 

operandi). 20 This refers also more generally to the 
‘innermost outside’ of the anarchist tradition — what 
many have felt the need to define as ‘anarchistic’ so 
as to describe something which is almost anarch- 
ist — such as Situationist Marxism, anti -civilization 
and primitivist thought, Zapatismo, and so on. But 
there is also the outside whose effects are felt from 
the ‘intimate without’ of the anarchist tradition (ie, 
the ‘extimacy’ 21 of the traditional anarchist dis- 
course), which I am moved to call (and have been 
calling, throughout this essay) anarchy. The initial 
phase or “introductory period” (Evren, in Evren & 

20 See 

21 Jacques- Alain Miller has argued that Lacan’s use of the term 
‘extimacy’ “Is necessary In order to escape the common ravings about 
a psychism supposedly located In a blpartltlon between Interior and 
exterior” (Miller, 2008). 



Rousselle, 2011) of post-anarchism is the explora- 
tion of this second ill-defined relationship to an ‘in- 
timate without’— the manifestation of this extimacy 
has brought about the interrogation of the anarchist 
tradition from the inside through, in the anglophone 
world, a questioning of the manifest interpretations 
of classical anarchist philosophy. In this regard, 
post- anarchism should not be reduced to a critique 
against the essentialism of classical anarchism be- 
cause this describes only one of the relationships 
that post-anarchists seek to elaborate (although, 
this is probably the strongest relationship). 

There are some similarities between the 
typology that I have outlined to describe the 
outside that post-anarchism seeks to explore and 
the tripartite typology outlined by Benjamin Franks 
in his article “Postanarchism and Meta-Ethics” 
(2007). Franks has argued that there are three main 
trends within post-anarchist theorizing: (1) the 
“^orf-anarchism that rejects traditional anarchist 
concerns” (Franks, 2007: 8), (2) the “redemptive 
post - anarchism that seeks the adoption into 
anarchism of poststructural theory to enrich and 
enliven existing practices” (Franks, 2007: 8), and; 
(3) the “postmodern accounts] of postanarchism 
[that] concentrate on the anarchist features of 
relatively recent phenomenon” (Franks, 2007: 8-9). 
Admittedly, the three trends that Franks outlines 


are beneficial for discovering manifest themes in 
the post- anarchist literature but they do not outline 
or seek to discover implicit themes that have been 
hinted at sufficiently by post-anarchists nor do they 
spell out whether these trends are mutually exclusive 
with regards to their particular manifestations 
or whether they derive in some instances from a 
common movement (for example, Lewis Call's 
work which has been a part of two of these trends 
rather than just one). Moreover, Franks sutures 
the discursive system of post-anarchism, thereby 
grinding it to a halt. He does this by closing the 
symbolic system off (rather than redirecting it into 
new and implied pathways) by producing a single 
image for the reader's consumption. The problem 
is that Franks has waged his critique against post- 
anarchism from within the imaginary order — his 
preconceived image of the post- anarchists and their 
discourse reflects and further impresses upon the 
tradition Franks believes himself to be defending 
(Vanheule et al, 2003: 324) — rather than from 
within the domain of the symbolic order whereby, 
in an ironic twist, he would once again be working 
from within the post- anarchist paradigm even while 
reacting against it. Post-anarchism has always 
embraced a constitutively open discourse which can 
not be reduced to strict imaginary representations. 

A woman pointed a gun at a man’s face. The 



man held up his hands and asked the woman for 
a moment to explain. He said, “You do not know 
me, and I have done nothing to you. Can you please 
just give me a moment to reflect on my life before 
you shoot me?” The woman nodded and in an in- 
stant was shot herself. The man, looking down at 
the woman, asked her if she had any last reflec- 
tions. She responded, “I have lost faith in others.” 
Does this not outline the problem that the critics 
of post- anarchism face today? They have lost faith 
in post- anarchism because of its crude reduction of 
the classical anarchist tradition, but, at the same 
time, they are only able to say this after first pro- 
viding a crude reduction of post- anarchism them- 
selves. Some critics of post- anarchism (Antliff, 
2007; Cohn & Wilbur, 2003; Cohn, 2002; Day, 
2005; Franks, 2011; Sasha K, 2004; Zabalaza, 
2003) have rejected post- anarchism on the prob- 
lematic grounds of its introductory phase whereby a 
caricature of the complexities of classical anarchism 
are presented, but they have done so in the spirit 
of post-anarchism through a rejection of the very 
practices and conditions (essentialism, reduction- 
ism) upon which post-anarchism has defined its op- 
position. In this sense, many of the critics of post- 
anarchism are very much working within a time of 
post- anarchism. To work from within the symbolic 
order (rather than from within the wholeness of the 

imaginary order) implies a rewriting of the founda- 
tions and systems that have proved problematic or 
burdensome in the first place (cf., Vanheule et al., 
2003; Lacanians are fond of calling this process 
“dialecticizing the symptom”, a process that brings 
closed discourses into ever new relationships with 
other discourses and signifiers). 

An examination of the latent content as well as 
the manifest content reveals important links between 
post- and traditional anarchism. I would like to take 
seriously the claim made by Benjamin Franks: “[post- 
anarchism] regards certain forms of postanarchism 
as being consistent with the most coherent forms of 
practical ‘classical’ anarchism” (Franks, 2007). The 
reduction of a diachronic political tradition to its syn- 
chronic manifestations risks precisely this problem- 
atic reading: Franks assumes that the anarchist trad- 
ition is a ‘practical’ tradition first and foremost rather 
than a negative ethical imperative (whereby this 
‘imperative’ should not be reduced to deontological 
ethics) animated by its latent impulse. The ethical 
commitment has manifested itself across differing 
combinations of responses to place and process and 
should therefore not be reduced to the practice-based 
ethic. The majority of post-anarchists have argued 
that their philosophies are firmly rooted within trad- 
itional anarchism (cf., Saint Schmidt, 2008) and the 
error of reducing classical anarchism to a caricature 



of its profound complexities is precisely the error of a 
lingering manifest classical anarchism. 

Regarding the first trend that I outlined (the 
extension of traditional anarchist philosophy by way 
of interventions into/from post-structuralist and/ 
or post-modem philosophy), there have been two 
further sub-divisions. First, there have been those 
anarchists whose interest in post-structuralism has 
been to extend the domain of anarchist philoso- 
phizing through the inclusion of recent develop- 
ments in either post-structuralist or post-modem 
philosophy. The other approach has been in the 
opposite direction, beginning from the standpoint 
of post-structuralism and gamering insights from 
the anarchist tradition in order to widen the scope 
of post-structuralist philosophy (this argument has 
also been made by Sureyyya Evren in Rousselle & 
Evren, 2011). Some post-anarchists, such as Gab- 
riel Kuhn (who would probably reject this label), 
have found this approach suspect: “An anarchist 
engagement with poststructuralism would hence 
consist of an anarchist evaluation of the usefulness 
of poststructuralist theory for anarchism's aims” 
(Kuhn, 2009: 19). 22 According to Kuhn, anarch- 

22 This same sentiment is recast for post-modernity: “An anarchist 
engagement with postmodernity would hence consist of an anarchist 
analysis of this condition — potentially helping anarchists to understand the 
socio-cultural dynamics of postmodern times” (Kuhn, 2009: 18). 


ists will need to absorb what is good in the post- 
structuralist discourse into their own (probably eth- 
ical discourse) or else risk losing or obscuring what 
is central about anarchist philosophy. 

Todd May, one of the most noted anglophone 
post-anarchists, arrived to anarchism through his 
exploration of post-structuralism, as Sureyyya Ev- 
ren argued: “May is predominantly working on the 
politics of post-structuralism while gaining some 
insights from anarchism to create a more effect- 
ive post-structuralist politics [...] Post- anarchism is 
better understood [...] as an anarchist theory first 
and foremost rather than a post- structuralist theory” 
(Sureyyya Evren in Rousselle & Evren, 2011). In 
the late 1 980s, May found himself on a train head- 
ing to the Eastern Division meetings of the Amer- 
ican Philosophical Association and he took the time 
to strike up a conversation about post-structuralist 
political theory with Mark Lance (General Director 
of the Institute for Anarchist Studies): 

I was trying to explain to a friend, Mark 
Lance, what the political theory of post- 
structuralism was all about. He listened 
more patiently than he should have and 
then said, ‘It sounds like anarchism to 
me.’ That comment was the seed of an 
article, “Is Post- Structuralist Political 
Theory Anarchist?” — which appeared 



in Philosophy and Social Criticism in 
1989 — and eventually of the present 
work [...] And Mark Lance has, over the 
years, provided me with intellectual rich- 
es far exceeding my ability to put them 
to good use (May, 1994: ix-x). 

The chance encounter with Mark Lance ap- 
pears to have shaped the ethical core of Todd May's 
post-structuralist anarchist philosophy (and it per- 
haps was the seed for a book on post-structuralist 
ethics, now with the anarchism qualifier omitted, 
in 2004) but anarchism has not been his primary 
commitment by any stretch of the imagination. One 
can surmise from his list of major publications — Be- 
tween Genealogy and Epistemology (1993), The 
Political Philosophy of Post-structuralist Anarch- 
ism (1994), Reconsidering Difference (1997), 
Our Practices, Our Selves, or, What It Means to 
Be Human (2001), Operation Defensive Shield 
(2003), The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism 
(2004), Grilles Deleuze (2005), (The) Philoso- 
phy of Foucault (2006), The Political Thought 
of Jacques Ranciere: Creating Equality (2008 a), 
Death (2008b) — that May's short detour through 
anarchist political philosophy was only integral 
to maintaining the project of post-structuralism. 
What post-structuralism needed, what it was un- 


able to define from within its own discursive par- 
ameters, was its anti -authoritarian ethics. May has 
weeded the anarchist tradition of what, by impli- 
cation, has not been realized from within its own 
discursive boundaries and then retained the anti- 
authoritarian ethical commitment (translated into 
a critique of humanism and naturalism) by another 
name: Todd May, the ^orf-anarchist. May has put 
this matter most eloquently: 

[P]o st- structuralist theory is indeed an- 
archist. It is in fact more consistently an- 
archist than traditional anarchist theory 
has proven to be. The theoretical well- 
spring of anarchism — the refusal of rep- 
resentation by political or conceptual 
means in order to achieve self-determin- 
ation along a variety of registers and at 
different local levels — finds its underpin- 
nings articulated most accurately by the 
post-structuralist political theorists (Todd 
May, in Evren & Rousselle, 2011: 44). 

One might question the thesis that “post- 
structuralist theory is [...] more consistently anarch- 
ist than traditional anarchist theory has proven to 
be” (Todd May, in Evren & Rousselle, 2011: 44) 
on the grounds that May's preoccupation with 
post-structuralism has been founded on the latent 



ethical code of traditional anarchism whereas post- 
structuralist political philosophy, even though it very 
often demonstrates evidence to the contrary, does 
not inherently imply the anti -authoritarian injunc- 
tion. Indeed, upon further inspection it becomes dif- 
ficult to define what precisely is meant by the term 
‘post- structuralism’ at all (especially considering 
that many of those individuals most typically asso- 
ciated with post-structuralism have not themselves 
accepted the distinction), as Simon Choat puts it: 
[W]hat is meant by 'post-structuralism' 

[...]? It is not insignificant that the lead- 
ing representatives of [post-anarchism] 
have all given [their project] a different 
name: Saul Newman refers to postan- 
archism, Todd May to post-structuralist 
anarchism, and Lewis Call to postmod- 
ern anarchism. These different labels in 
part reflect disagreement about who can 
be termed a ’post-structuralist’ (Choat, 
2011 : 53 ). 

While there is certainly an anarchistic reading 
of select post-structuralist authors, there is also at 
least one other possible reading of post-structural- 
ist ethics (from Levinas through to Derrida) that re- 
veals a dimension that is much more akin to a crude 
liberal democratic ethics as opposed to a passionate 


anti -authoritarian ethic of confrontation founded in 
the onto-ethical ‘war model.’ 23 If, on the other hand, 
one describes a particular philosopher who has 
often been associated with the post-structuralism 
movement and can relate this author to an anarch - 
istic impulse, that is, to an anti -authoritarian ethos, 
one is typically only able to do this first by achieving 
a distance from the language of anti-authoritarian- 
ism: the language of post-structuralism is unclear 
in of itself with regards to its anarchism and this 
is why the relationship between the two bodies of 
thought is only now coming into view. If it were ap- 
parent, and obvious, it should not have prompted 
the ethical question that May has tried to answer 
in Chapter 6 of his post-structuralist anarchism 
book: “Two questions have stalked poststructuralist 
discourse from its inception: Is it epistemically co- 
herent? and Can it be ethically grounded?” (1994: 
121). May was correct in writing, then, that “the 
poststructuralists have always avoided [an] overt 
discussion of ethics” (May, 1994: 15) but where 
he has been insincere, from my reading, is with re- 
spect to his privileging of post-structuralist political 
philosophy at the expense of the anarchist under- 

23 For an explanation of the war model see Newman ([2001] 2007: 
50-1, 80-1). For a great explanation of the problems of statism inherent 
to the Levinasian/Derridean ethical trajectory see “Smashing the 
Neighbor's Face” by Slavoj Zizek (2005). 



pinning. At times, May openly validated my thesis: 
Anarchism's naturalism in positing a 
human essence contains within it an 
insight — though not a naturalist one — 
that will prove crucial for understanding 
poststructuralist political philosophy. [...] 

It will be seen that the poststructuralist 
perspective requires precisely this kind 
of ethical discourse in order to realize its 
political theory, although, as with polit- 
ical theory generally, a poststructuralist 
ethics does not by itself found the theory 
but, rather, interacts with the political 
and social context to codetermine it. [...] 

(May, 1994: 40-1). 

Based on this, there are sufficient grounds for 
the critique raised against Todd May by Siireyyya 
Evren (Evren in Rousselle & Evren, 201 1). 24 

There have also been two main points of de- 
parture for post-anarchist critiques of traditional 
anarchist political philosophy: epistemological and 
ontological. The point to be made is that the cri- 

24 A further line of questioning against May might include his 

critique of both traditional anarchism and post- structuralist political 
philosophy as lacking ethical expression while maintaining that they 
both claim to be ethical traditions. In this sense, why choose post- 
structuralism as the truly ethical tradition over anarchism? What is at 
stake in this choice? 


tique against traditional anarchist philosophy has 
come from one of the two positions, epistemo- 
logical or ontological, rather than from a mixture 
of the possibilities that may be realized by combin- 
ing the two areas (as I have attempted to do in this 
book through meta-ethics). By way of assessing 
truth claims inherent in traditional anarchist phil- 
osophy (for their universalist pretensions), most 
post- anarchists have adopted an epistemologically 
grounded assault on essentialist ontology that has 
tended to take on the characteristics of an endorse- 
ment of democratic pluralist and philosophical 
relativist positions. There have also been those — 
the more promising of the two approaches — that 
have developed alternative ontological foundations 
grounded on the model of schizophrenic subjectiv- 
ity (Newman, [2001] 2007: 103; Perez, 1990) or 
else the Lacanian/Stinerian model of empty sub- 
jectivity (Newman, [2001] 2007). With regards 
to the two trends of post-anarchist philosophizing, 
none have adequately elaborated the anarchist eth- 
ics that has motivated their anti-essentialism: none 
have described post- anarchism as a meta-ethics of 
traditional anarchism. Without this elaboration of 
ethics we are led to believe that post-anarchist phil- 
osophizing begins from either the epistemological 
or the ontological point of departure — which they 
currently appear to — rather than as a consequence 



of an explicit ethical foundation and system that 
appeals to nihilist (that is, having to do with an- 
archy) responses to place and process. 

Post-anarchist philosophers have been pre- 
occupied with outlining an anti-essentialistvariant of 
anarchist political philosophy but they have hitherto 
relied on relativist epistemological approaches. For 
example, Andrew Koch has argued that, in contrast 
to an ontological defence of anarchism, an epis- 
temologically based theory of anarchism questions 
the processes out of which a ‘characterization’ of 
the individual occurs (Koch, in Rousselle & Evren, 
2011: 26). If the validity of the representation of 
truth-claims can be questioned then the political 
structures that rest upon these foundations must 
also be suspect (ibid.). This epistemological defence 
of post- anarchism inevitably falls into a form of 
relativism but it does not necessarily reject the posi- 
tive response to the meta-ethical question of pro- 
cess. For Koch, this approach received its political 
voice in “democratic pluralism” (ibid., 38). 

Unfortunately, meaningful political engage- 
ment is precluded by this approach as anarchism 
becomes only one approach among many without 
the universal relevance required for any revolution- 
ary discourse. Contrarily, to begin from a place of 
ethics presumes the possibility of political engage- 
ment and revolutionary commitment. If post-an- 


archism is to rise above the criticism laid against 
it, that it is “post-revolution” (cf., Sasha K, 2004), 
post- anarchists will have to remain firmly within 
the universalist framework rather than the relativist 
one currently in vogue among radicals; or else they 
must provide an elaboration, as I have been trying 
to do here, of anarchist meta- ethics in the negative 
dimension. To be sure, I am speaking about a uni- 
versalist ethics that takes the absurd joke as truth. 
The trick is to move from a post- anarchism that re- 
jects the universal dimension of ethics in favour of 
the relativist, toward a post-anarchism grounded in 
non-idealistic materialism, in base materialism, the 
forces of the base economy. 

In the next chapter I shall aim to demonstrate 
that Bataille’s approach to ethics — his beginning 
from the place of meta- ethics rather than from 
epistemology or ontology — permits him to describe 
a place of pure exteriority heretofore unrealized by 
both traditional and post- anarchisms. In this re- 
gard, Georges Bataille has written, “[t]he extension 
of economic growth itself requires the overturning 
of economic principles — the overturning of the eth- 
ics that grounds them” (1991: 25). Here we see 
that while post-anarchism was a destabilization 
of the positivity of meta-ethical responses to the 
question of place, the base materialism of Bataille 
is a destabilization of the positive meta-ethical re- 



sponses to the question of process. If post-anarch- 
ism has been a paradoxical relativism grounded in 
the latent base subjectivist meta-ethical framework 
then post-anarchism after Bataille will be a para- 
doxical universalism grounded in the base material- 
ist meta-ethical framework. 


Toward an Ethics of the Outside 

Three major claims have brought me to this 
section on Georges Bataille’s meta-ethics. First, I 
have argued that the c factor of traditional an- 
archist philosophy is ‘ethics’ and that it has been 
brought to the fore by way of the post-anarchist 
discourse. Second, apropos of the first thesis, I 
have argued that post-anarchism has become one 
of the most vocal contemporary meta-ethical dis- 
courses on traditional anarchist philosophy. In 
this regard, post- anarchism has waged a critique 
against manifest anarchist ethics that has centred 
around the exposition of a repressed underside to 
its meta-ethical foundation. We have seen that 
this underside has also been theorized contempor- 
aneously by the dominant school of nihilists within 
meta-ethical discourse. Finally, I have argued that 
post-anarchism, as a discourse (among discourses), 
has largely assumed a base subjectivist response to 
meta-ethical questions. This does not necessarily 
pose a problem for post-anarchist philosophers but 
in keeping with the ethical trajectory of its negative 
attribute there are two areas in which post-anarch- 
ists could potentially stand to benefit: they could 
adopt a negative, rather than a relativist, response 
to the problem of universalism within the question 
of process, and they could reject the subject as the 



central category of ethical agency. I shall argue that 
there is yet another response to the meta-ethical 
questions of place and process: one may respond 
negatively to the epistemological problem of uni- 
versalism by rejecting all truth- claims and one may 
likewise take the ontological problematic of non- 
being to its limit by rejecting the subject as the 
locus of ethical agency. In doing so, post- anarchists 
could bring traditional anarchism’s c factor to frui- 
tion. This latter position is correlative to the meta- 
ethical position of Georges Bataille. 

First of all, I will defend a non-hermeneutical 
method of reading Bataille’s work as the only possible 
way to unearth the truth inherent to Bataille’s un- 
stable discourse. I shall also risk the preliminary con- 
jecture that Bataille’s relationship to post-structural- 
ist philosophy was an ironic one: he at once overcame 
the limitations of post-structuralist philosophy (spe- 
cifically, the problem of relativism) and yet he also 
presupposed post-structuralist philosophy (broadly, 
the destabilization of universalism) — the irony of this 
statement is revealed by the fact that Bataille’s writ- 
ing came before the advent of structuralism as a gen- 
eral philosophy. It is therefore just as likely that post- 
anarchism, or post- anarchism after Georges Ba- 
taille, has revealed a retroactive truth inherent to the 
traditional anarchist discourse. If it can be claimed 
that Bataille’s philosophy is also a post-structuralist 


philosophy, albeit one that transcends the problem 
of conventional post-structuralism (relativism as the 
positive response to the critique of universalism), it 
could also be claimed that post- anarchism has retro- 
actively revealed the truth of traditional anarchism. 
May we also say that post- anarchism after Bataille 
has revealed a truth about the direction traditional 
anarchist philosophy may now be moving — the fu- 
ture truth of traditional anarchism? 

I will highlight some ofthe concepts that appear 
to be of primary utility for this project which I have 
set before me: the general economy, heterogeneity, 
base materialism, sovereignty, abjection, headless 
community, sacrifice and silence. I use each concept 
as a stepping stone to the final concept, tracing a 
movement from Bataille’s meta-ethics to his even 
more paradoxical first order ethics of sacrifice. I am 
also making the claim that the earlier concepts carry 
much more authority in Bataille’s writing than the 
latter concepts . 25 Moreover, each of these concepts 
are taxonomically commensurate but each takes a 
unique point of departure within the economy of 
his discourse. In this sense, this chapter introduces 
multiple entry-points for thinking post-anarchism 
after Bataille. These concepts also help us to uncov- 

25 This claim has been made by Benjamin Noys in various ways (Noys, 
2000: passim). For this reason it should be no surprise that I have heavily 
cited several of Noys s works throughout the entirety of this section. 



er the hidden dimension in Bataille’s work, namely 
the anarchistic logic of ‘the general state,’ my own 
neologism. To the extent that Marxism influenced 
Bataille’s notion of the general economy, we may 
also say that the latent reading of Bataille’s text re- 
veals a specifically ‘headless’ anarchist logic of the 
state. In Bataille’s work on political economy the 
base metaphysical concept of the general state has 
described the law from which the general economy 
secures its wealth. Befittingly, I am charting out two 
paths by way of a dialogue between each uniquely 
situated philosophy. On the one hand, I shall pro- 
vide entry-points or interventions into Bataille’s 
discourse from the position of anarchist philosophy 
and, on the other hand, I shall provide entry-points 
or interventions into the anarchist discourse from 
the position of the innermost outside of anarchist 
philosophy (Bataille’s discourse). I bring this section 
to a close by describing a baseless ethics of sacrifice. 
According to Bataille, the ethical act is the one that 
does not get coded into the symbolic order, this, I 
argue, is sacrifice read a la lettre. 

The Failure of Reading Bataille 

Any inquiry into the nature of Georges Bataille’s 
troublesome relationship with Marxism appears to 
me to be a matter of banality. In any case, this vex- 
ing relationship is by now a matter of the common 


knowledge (cf., Grindon, 2010; Richardson, 1994: 
1-4; Shershow, 2001; Hutnyk, 2003; for an ac- 
count of the incommensurability of Marxism and 
Bataille’s philosophy see Botting & Wilson, 1991: 
9-10; Hollier, 1990) and its elaboration proves 
trivial if one is interested in performing in writing 
(and exposing through theory) the truth inherent 
to Bataille’s oeuvre . Z6 Likewise, recent attempts to 
situate Bataille as the ex post facto father figure of a 
distinctly post-structuralist/post-modernist lineage 
have not been met by idle pens (cf., Dorfman, 2002: 
et passim, Jay, 2005: 361-400, et passim, Lechte, 
1994: 108-36, et passim, Noys, 2000: 1, 16-17, 
100-2, 130-5, 168, et passim). For instance, not 
long after Bataille’s death Tel Quel — an avant-garde 
literary journal operating out of Paris at the time — 
had incisively granted Bataille this appropriate dis- 
tinction — the irony of which became exposed as the 
occurrence preceded the popularization of structur- 
alist thought itself (Botting & Wilson, 1991; 5-7, 
esp. page 6). What remains to be excavated from 
Bataille’s texts is the nature of his commitment to 
that proud adversary of Marxist thought, anarchism. 

26 I am moved by Lacans insistence on the dominance of the style of 

writing. In the opening sentence to Bruce Finks s 2006 edition of Ecrits 
Lacan is quoted: “The style is the man himself” (Lacan, 2006c: 3). As one 
blogger put it: “Lacan is incredibly concerned with style, how the person 
is revealed through his language, and [he] seems incredibly careful with 
his” (La Relation d’Objet, 2009). 



This venture resolves itself into a central problem- 
atic: one can not subscribe Bataille to any political 
philosophy while remaining faithful to the truth of 
his work — and yet, my claim is that there is some- 
thing within Bataille’s work that lends itself to an 
anarchistic interpretation. 

I have argued in the first section of this book 
that the psychoanalytic tradition has revealed a hid- 
den dimension within every discourse. There is a side 
that appears objectively within sight (the manifest 
content) but there is also a side that remains for- 
ever out of view (the latent content). While there is 
a truth that occurs by way of appearances, this truth 
is always disrupted by an aggrandized truth that re- 
fuses to be contained by appearances alone. This lat- 
ter force is truth proper — it is the source of truth — 
because it temporarily sustains the cohesion prom- 
ised by the appearance: “[Ajppearance constitutes a 
limit [but] what truly exists is a dissolution” (Bataille, 
2004: 173). 27 There are thus truths which appear 
and also truths which elude appearances. To bring 
this metaphor of the appearance to its full effect, Ba- 
taille argued that “[i]t is the aperture which opens the 
possibility of vision but which vision cannot compre- 
hend visually” (Noys, 2000: 30). Truth proper, like 

27 In this sense the word “dissolution” means “frivolity, moral laxness, 
dissolute living” ( circa late- 14c; as retrieved from on 
January 28, 2011). 


the aperture, is the source of the appearance which at 
once sustains and eludes the appearance. 

The full discovery of this field occurred apro- 
pos Lacan as a retort to the failure of post- 1920s 
analytic psychoanalysis and its inability to quell the 
analysand’s resistance to psychoanalytic interpreta- 
tion. Conventional psychoanalytic methodologies 
demonstrated an inability to predict and overcome 
the integration of their discourse into the common 
knowledge of the public. The analysand’s resistance 
to analysis thereby stemmed from the predictability 
of the meaning ascribed to her symptom by the ana- 
lyst. In a word, analysands no longer succumbed to 
the shock of analysis because this shock was replaced 
by ubiquitous predictability. Lacan believed that ac- 
cess to truth derived not from meaning but rather 
from the shock of the treatment itself. To combat 
the analysand’s resistance to interpretation, Lacan 
proposed that analysts reformulate the ceremonious 
methodologies of Freudian psychotherapy. In point 
of fact, Lacan reread the truths of the Freudian trad- 
ition. Henceforth the Lacanian school of psycho- 
analysis called for analysts to move away from the 
seductive methodology of interpretation — whereby 
the analyst decoded the manifest content in order 
to reveal an objectively observable latent content — 
and to move toward the disruption of the meaning- 
production process itself (cf.,, 2011). 



Lacan lucidly informed us that “analysis reveals the 
truth [...] by making holes in meaning the determin- 
ants of its discourse” (Lacan, [1960] 2006d: 678). 
Yet, the production of meaning during analysis was 
always an immanent consequence of treatment — as 
an analyst, one can not sit quietly and expect the 
analysand to overcome her neurosis or perversion 
miraculously, similarly one can not interject into 
the totality of the analysand’s utterances. Instead, 
interpretations after Lacan were to aim toward the 
production of ‘effects’ which may or may not corres- 
pond to the apparent facts of the discourse, these ef- 
fects were to provide points of departure for rethink- 
ing the symbolism (or recirculating the signifiers) of 
the discourse at hand (, 201 1). 

Bataille shared Lacan’s distrust of meaning- 
production processes — Bataille’s entire work de- 
pended quite fundamentally upon this distinction 
between the latent truth and manifest truths: “[y] 
ou must know, first of all, that everything that has 
a manifest side also has a hidden side. Your face 
is quite noble, there’s a truth in your eyes with 
which you grasp the world, but your hairy parts 
underneath your dress are no less a truth than your 
mouth is” (Bataille, 1997). This is to say that Ba- 
taille’s entire exposition intended to produce effects 
of consciousness in the reader’s own discourse but 
also in the discourse with which Bataille conveyed 


this meaning. The latent truth thus cross-cuts 
every discourse precisely where they are lacking 
in knowledge. It is not therefore at the level of ap- 
pearances that anarchism and Bataille’s discourse 
converge (or that the one appropriates the truths 
of the other) but it is much rather in their mutual 
disruption of the order of appearances from within 
a latent discourse that is permitted within either of 
the two philosophical systems. Whereas anarchist 
philosophy has theorized a truth that occurs out- 
side of the logic of the state-form, Bataille’s phil- 
osophy has theorized a truth that occurs outside of 
the logic of homogeneity. 28 

However, Bataille’s use of the concept was 
much more of a description for a manifest way of 
thinking — Bataille was describing a particular dis- 
cursive arrangement or a particular state of mind 
that manifests itself politically and socially. Bataille 
argued that “[h]omogeneity signifies [...] the com- 
mensurability of elements and the awareness of this 
commensurability: human relations are sustained 
by a reduction to fixed rules based on the conscious- 
ness of the possible identity of delineable persons 
and situations; in principle, all violence is excluded 
from this course of existence” (1985: 137-8). This 

28 Homogeneity, in contrast to heterogeneity, has been described 
by Richardson as “an organised society based upon inflexible law and 
cohesion” (Richardson, 1994: 35). 


toward an ethics 

implies that homogeneous social arrangements 
are sustained, firstly, by meta-ethics, whereby Ba- 
taille’s reduction to ‘persons’ answers positively to 
the question of place and his reduction to ‘situa- 
tions’ answers positively to the question of process. 
Apropos this description of the logic of homogeneity, 
in “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” Bataille 
unwittingly described that feature of the state-form 
previously held by anarchists. The restrictive state- 
form, according to Bataille, is a manifestation of the 
homogeneous logic of self-preservation, it always 
serves the interests of those in power — thus, the 
State “must constantly be protected from the vari- 
ous unruly elements that do not benefit from pro- 
duction” (Bataille, 1985: 139). 

The wastage of productive processes have 
manifested themselves into various identities of 
resistance over the years, including, classically, the 
proletariat and, more recently, the multitude. Re- 
cently, these identities of resistance have given 
way to a peculiarly post-structuralist logic of so- 
cial movements. By way of the description of the 
homogeneous state-form Bataille also described a 
peculiar logic employed by the heterogeneous por- 
tions of society that ostensibly break apart from the 
homogeneity of state logic — elsewhere, Richard J. F. 
Day has described this as the logic of demand: 

By [the logic of demand] I mean to refer to 


actions oriented to ameliorating the prac- 
tices of states, corporations and everyday 
life, through either influencing or using 
state power to achieve irradiation effects 
[...] it can change the content of struc- 
tures of domination but it cannot change 
their form [...] every demand, in anticipat- 
ing a response, •perpetuates these struc- 
tures, which exist precisely in anticipation 
of demands (Day, in Rousselle & Evren, 

2011: 107). 

Similarly, Bataille argued that “the function 
of the State consists of an interplay of authority 
and adaptation [...] The reduction of differences 
through compromise in parliamentary practice 
indicates all the possible complexity of the internal 
activity of adaptation required by homogeneity 
[...] But against forces that cannot be assimilated, 
the State cuts matters short with strict authority” 
(Bataille, 1985: 139). 

Whereas Day found an alternative to the self- 
preserving logic of the state -form in the practices of 
the ‘newest social movements,’ whose autonomy 
was said to render state -logic redundant, 29 Bataille’s 

29 As Day has put it: “[this] aims to reduce [the] efficacy [of 
state-logic] by rendering them redundant. [It] therefore appears 
simultaneously as a negative force working against the colonization of 


toward an ethics 

perspective offers little hope for autonomous eth- 
ical activity because, quite simply, there is no place 
from which to mount a resistance (no proletariat, no 
multitude, no social movements at all). For Bataille, 
the State depends upon all fixed ethical activity: “the 
State derives most of its strength from spontaneous 
homogeneity, which it fixes and constitutes as the 
rule. [...] [Isolated individuals increasingly consider 
themselves as ends with regard to the state” (Ba- 
taille, 1985: 139). On the other hand, real hetero- 
geneity can not be defined around the principles of 
social movement theory because it cuts through any 
models that would pretend to contain it — hetero- 
geneity is the refusal of discourse as such (and yet it 
also flows through discourse). As Jesse Goldhammer 
has put it, “[Heterogeneity] encompasses everything 
that is unproductive, irrational, incommensurable, 
unstructured, unpredictable, and wasteful” (Gold- 
hammer, 2005: 169). In this sense, Bataille’s work 
criticizes any radical identity, it refuses all such at- 
tempts to translate negative truths into positive 
experiments. To be sure, it is also a claim made 
against the predictability of unpredictability, as the 
manifestation of spontaneous resistance or anarch- 
ist experimentation as the law. The proletariat in 
Bataille’s work is thus to be regarded as one of his 

everyday life by the state [...] and a positive force acting to reverse this 
process” (Day in Rousselle & Evren, 2011: 112). 


‘approximations’ or ‘effects,’ rather than as the har- 
binger of his truth. 

Bataille’s refusal of the positive also led him 
to trace a logic of duality inherent to movements 
of heterogeneity. For example, Bataille has distin- 
guished between a heterogeneity that occurs within 
the ‘positive’ content of any discourse and a hetero- 
geneity that occurs exclusively within the ‘negative’ 
content: “the general positive character of hetero- 
geneity [...] does not exist in a formless and disori- 
ented state: on the contrary, it constantly tends to a 
split-off structure; and when social elements pass 
over to the heterogeneous side, their action still 
finds itself determined by the actual structure of 
that side" (italics in original; Bataille, 1985: 141). 
Hence there is a determined relationship upon 
the positive heterogeneous social movements by 
the homogeneity of state logic. To the extent that 
manifest positive statements in social movement 
discourse attempt to disrupt state-logic it occurs in 
obverse proclamations, in their untranslated ethical 
systems — in secret. What room Bataille has grant- 
ed to revolutionary formations, or more broadly to 
ethical activity, is best summarized by his insistence 
that, in democratic states, “it is only the very nearly 
indifferent attitude of the proletariat that has per- 
mitted these countries to avoid fascist formations” 
(Bataille, 1985: 159). There is thus ample room to 


toward an ethics 

conclude that the nihilist anarchism I have striven 
to describe converges with these readings of Bataille. 
However, as I have insisted elsewhere, the result of 
this convergence proves itself to be paradoxical. At 
the level of meta-ethics, the c factor of anarchism, 
and the central preoccupation of Bataille, there is an 
obvious parallel: an ethics that rejects all authority 
and representation, an ethics that refuses to settle 
into the territory of the manifest content — in a word, 
an ethics of disruption. Both discourses converge by 
way of their negative attributes, by way of what they 
reject in the world. 

Nonetheless, my argument is that any claim 
of a convergence of anarchist philosophy with Ba- 
taille’s philosophy must be met with suspicion. We 
must take seriously the question of appropriation 
when reading any work that attempts to fit Bataille 
into a pre-existing political tradition. Any approach 
that reduces the complexity of Bataille’s oeuvre 
to a political categorization implies a fundamen- 
tal misreading of the work (Noys, 2000: 52). We 
must also be suspicious of any interpretation of 
Bataille’s work. For instance, hermeneutical inves- 
tigations into the truth of the text have tended to 
oscillate between readings of the objective text and 
interpretations by the subject while never settling 
upon either of the two poles (cf., Skinner, 2002). 
That is, truth is found between the two poles rath- 


er than anywhere else — there are thus multiple/ 
relative truths granted to any historically situated 
text. Hence, political appropriations have evaded 
the (universal) truth inherent to Bataille’s antag- 
onistic propositions. But, as I have said, Bataille’s 
truth also eludes all positive interpretations (Noys, 
2000: 105) and thereby challenges hermeneut- 
ical methodologies on their presupposition of an 
intersubjective dimension (or of a ‘letter that al- 
ways reaches its recipient’). The problem of read- 
ing Bataille amounts to a central question about 
faith: how can it be that Bataille is being faithful 
if, in considering the truth of his text ‘to the let- 
ter’, we end up none the wiser? The paradox is that 
Bataille ‘was’ and ‘was not’ being faithful to us in 
his pronouncements: “A book that no one awaits, 
that answers no formulated question, that the au- 
thor would not have written if he had followed its 
lesson to the letter — such is finally the oddity that 
today I offer the reader [...] This invites distrust at 
the outset” (Bataille, 1991: 11). The seduction of 
the propositions in Bataille’s oeuvre enters by way 
of the negative expression of truth rather than by 
way of its positive manifestations. His text is a de- 
scription of its failure and his positive propositions 
are metaphors that allow us only a fleeting glimpse 
of his truth. Conversely, hermeneutical methods 
reduce this negative expression to a positive doc- 


toward an ethics 

trine by rendering the heterogeneous descriptions 
into homogeneous utterances (or positive hetero- 
geneities). Hermeneuti cists are intent on revealing 
only the discoverable portions of the text. Noys was 
acutely aware of Bataille’s struggle to write the his- 
tory of the unfinished system of non-knowledge: 
The play of [heterogeneity] dominates 
not only Bataille’s writing but also that 
of those who try to interpret his texts. 
Bataille was [...] trying to describe an [...] 
economy, one that no writing, or any 
other action, could reckon without and 
could never entirely reckon with. This 
means that to write about Bataille is to 
be forced to engage with the effects of 
[this] economy that is not dominated by 
either Bataille or his readers. [...] [This] 
economy is an economy of difference 
that is irreducible either to a universal 
law or to a particular context or, to use 
the terminology of philosophy, it is nei- 
ther transcendental nor empirical [...] it 
can never be reduced to the empirical 
description of this play of forces (Noys, 

2000 : 123 ). 

In this sense hermeneutics is the empirical 
examination of the manifest content that takes 


the form of a conclusive interpretation — a read- 
ing of the other through the language of the other 
(and, one might add, the other as an ontological re- 
sponse to place). As Demeterio has put it “[i]n its 
barest sense, hermeneutics can be understood as 
a theory, methodology and praxis of interpretation 
that is geared towards the recapturing of meaning 
of a text, or a text-analogue, that is temporally or 
culturally distant, or obscured by ideology and false 
consciousness” (Demeterio, 2007). But Noys has 
gone to great lengths to argue that the proper way 
to read Bataille is to disband with an interpretation 
that aims toward any meaningful conclusion (Noys, 
2000: 1 26). Noys provided access to Bataille’s truth 
by way of a paradox: “If we had never read Bataille 
at all then we would be the best readers of Bataille, 
but we would never know this unless we had read 
Bataille” (Noys, 2000: 128). 

The problem of arriving at the meaningful con- 
clusion embedded within the manifest content is 
also the problem of reaching an orientation in rela- 
tion to the text. Like Lacanian methodologies, Ba- 
taille’s epistemology aimed toward disorientation 
rather than orientation, as Noys has argued: “Ba- 
taille begins reading in an experience of disorienta- 
tion, of impossibility. After announcing in Guilty 
that reading is impossible and that he has lost the 
urge to read, Bataille starts to read” (Noys, 2000: 


toward an ethics 

128). We shall also notice that this disorientation 
occurs at the level of meta-ethics while the ability 
to read a manifest truth occurs at the level of eth- 
ics — as I have said elsewhere in this essay, a nihil- 
ist meta-ethics does not preclude the possibility for 
ethical action. To be sure, I do not mean for this to 
imply that the ethical act was encoded within his 
meta-ethical system, it was not — it was evident only 
as the failure of the encoding process itself, even 
the descriptions of this failure have ultimately met 
failure. At this point I would like to begin to pose 
the question: at the level of politics, who fails better 
than the anarchist? 

Bataille’s writing is an attempt at failure, but 
we can not ignore that he also writes about this 
failure. The reading of the failure produces sense 
where there is none. To read Bataille implies that 
one be “led [...] against those readings which try to 
appropriate a sense out of his heterogeneity” (Noys, 
2000: 117). Bataille was not referring to a truth 
inherent to the difference of the text in the positive 
sense (a positive heterogeneity) but rather the truth 
of the remainder of the text, he was referring to its 
excremental portion which takes the appearance of 
the repressed content. The meaningful conclusion 
implied in the hermeneutic reading of the text 
comes as a result of an attempt to appropriate that 
which forever exposes a primordial incompleteness 


and instability. Hermeneutics therefore sutures 
the gap between the truth of his text (its absolute 
otherness) and its positive propositions as an 
‘other’ — at the very least, interpretations of his work 
ought to aim toward what I have earlier described 
as ‘effects.’ Once again, on this point Noys’s work 
has been instructive: 

[E]ven the most complete appropria- 
tion is haunted by a heterogeneity that 
it can never completely absorb. It is this 
remainder that makes reading possible, 
that reopens new possibilities of read- 
ing while remaining impossible to read. 
Theoretical appropriation succeeds but 
at the cost of reducing the object to a 
dead thing, to freezing the play of dif- 
ference into a stable arrangement (Noys, 
2000 : 126 ). 

This excrement forever radiates outward from 
the discourse, awaiting revelation, and yet it also 
prevents the closure of any system or foundation 
which seeks to advance beyond this nihilist founda- 
tion. For this reason there is no ethical act proper 
except the one that remains uncoded. Bataille made 
a metaphor of this uncoded ethical gesture by way 
of the dying criminal: “What is not useful must 
hide itself (under a mask). Addressing himself to 


toward an ethics 

the crowd, a dying criminal was the first to formu- 
late this commandment : ‘Never confess’” (Bataille, 
2001: 79). But whether or not one performs an 
ethical act does not change the original condition, 
this condition propels the species within their web 
of language. Any system of knowledge, including 
the most radical, is thereby destined toward failure. 
Noys claimed that, 

The philosopher picks through the waste 
of what remains after appropriation, and 
this is what attracts Bataille to philoso- 
phy. However, although philosophy does 
not leave anything out, including waste 
products, the problem is that it appropri- 
ates that waste as part of a new intellec- 
tual system. [...] After Nietzsche, Bataille 
will no longer understand philosophy as 
a discourse of truth but as a discourse 
that is unstable and impure (italics in 
original; Noys, 2000: 39). 

The argument that Noys was raising, through 
Bataille, relates also to the problem of academic 
knowledge (or the discourse of the university). More- 
over, it relates fundamentally to the claim made in 
the earlier part of my essay that the conceptual sys- 
tems I have fashioned for the purposes of this thesis 
are destined toward failure. In this way, Noys has 


also argued that Bataille’s work does not lend itself 
easily to the appropriative and/or exclusionary epis- 
temological processes of academia (cf., Noys, 2000: 
2), let alone the naive and reductive hermeneuticism 
that aims toward meaningful conclusions. Rather, 
we are met by two problematic movements which 
occur as if toward opposing poles. On the one hand, 
we may discuss the appropriation of the truth inher- 
ent in Bataille’s oeuvre which occurs by way of gross 
reductions in an otherwise negative heterogeneous 
system of writing. On the other hand, the rejection of 
the truth inherent in Bataille’s oeuvre occurs by way 
of a gross repression of the heterogeneous base force 
Bataille sought to describe. Whether by appropria- 
tion or rejection, the truth inherent in Bataille’s text 
transcends all philosophical speculations that seek/ 
sought to reduce being to a presence rather than to 
its full spectrum of attributes. “What Bataille re- 
quires,” Noys wrote, “is a reading that respects the 
heterogeneity of his thought, a thought that is of and 
at the limit” (Noys, 2000: 4). It is this reading that 
guides the writing of my essay. 

Beneath the General Economy, 

The General State 

Bataille distinguished between two levels of 
economy. On the one hand, he described the econ- 
omy we are already familiar with, the one theorized 


toward an ethics 

by countless political economists to this day. This 
economy is the economy of the particular, its logic 
is derived from the generalization of isolatable in- 
stances. Its laws are based on calculation, profit- 
ability, and useability. But Bataille insisted that one 
can not discover the general movement of the econ- 
omy with the mind of a mechanic whose knowledge 
about the whole comes only from his knowledge of 
the problems within the particular automobile. The 
problem of conventional economics has therefore 
also been the problem of the fallibility of the logic of 
utility. It is possible to imagine an economy whose 
energy is fuelled by squander rather than by profit, 
an economy that disrupts the logic of utility and in 
doing so provides the impetus for future economic 
arrangements. In the movement from the one econ- 
omy to the other one also moves from the particu- 
lar standpoint to the general standpoint. “Between 
[the] production of automobiles and the general 
movement of the economy,” Bataille wrote, “the 
interdependence is rather clear, but the economy 
taken as a whole is usually studied as if it were a 
matter of an isolatable system of operation” (Ba- 
taille, 1991: 19). Hence, the restrictive economy 
depends upon the logic of utility within a delimited 
domain of material supply; restrictive economy is 
thereby an economy of scarcity. In classical polit- 
ical philosophy, this scarcity is the cause for social 


war which in turn has provided the need, ostensibly, 
for the state-form as an arbiter — if, for example, 
there are not enough resources to be shared there 
is reason to believe that those who are best able to 
present the appearance of threat stand to benefit 
the most from the social war of all against all. Con- 
versely, Bataille argued that the general economy 
depends upon the logic of destructive expenditure, 
of useless waste, within a limitless domain of ma- 
terial supply; general economy is thereby an econ- 
omy of excess, an economy of wealth. As Bataille 
has put it, “[f]rom the 'particular point of view, 
the problems are posed in the first instance by a 
deficiency of resources [...] They are posed in the 
first instance by an excess of resources if one starts 
from the general point of view” (italics in original; 
Bataille, 1993: 39). To adopt the vantage point 
of the general economy is thus to begin from the 
presumption of surplus rather than scarcity — u [o]n 
the whole a society always produces more than is 
necessary for its survival; it has a surplus at its dis- 
posal” (Bataille, 1993: 106) — and to thus under- 
mine the raison d'etre of the state-form in liberal 
political philosophy. Moreover, as I have said, this 
surplus ensures the continual growth of particular 
economies of scarcity — “[t]he surplus is the cause 
of the agitation, of the structural changes and of 
the entire history of society” (Bataille, 1993: 106). 


toward an ethics 

That the particular economies are founded 
upon the general economy does not imply that they 
are embodiments of this economy — instead, they 
reveal an altogether different truth whereby the par- 
ticular economy takes on a short truthful life of its 
own independent from the underlying truth of the 
general economy. In contrast to the particular econ- 
omy, the general economy is grounded upon an in- 
ability toward closure and thereby threatens and in- 
deed overcomes the limits imposed by the restrictive 
economies. In time, the general economy is a rejec- 
tion of the particular economy but it is also the as- 
surance of the life and the regeneration of particular 
economies throughout time. In describing the gen- 
eral economy, Bataille thus undermined the privil- 
eged and long-held axioms of conventional political 
and economic philosophy and subjected them to a 
superior law and economy. He exposed the extent to 
which the state-form (which emerged as a supposed 
arbiter over the social war that ostensibly occurred 
by way of scarcity) and the capitalist economic form 
(which emerged as a supposed assurance of a life 
endlessly moving away from a needs-based econ- 
omy; cf., Zizek, 2005b) were grounded upon the in- 
tensive logic of the latent content: within this logic 
it is not acquisition but expenditure which reigns. 
The latent content is the ungovernable portion of 
the state-ment, its truth is revealed by the endless 


disruption of manifest state-ments. For Bataille, the 
restrictive “state [...] cannot give full reign to a move- 
ment of destructive consumption” (Bataille, 1993: 
160) it must therefore obey the laws of expenditure 
in order to achieve a semblance of authority over a 
period of time with relative success. In this regard, 
“exchange presents itself as a process of expenditure, 
over which a process of acquisition has developed” 
(Noys, 2000: 108) — there is a primordial truth- 
claim being made: “For Bataille economy, and es- 
pecially modem restricted economics in its capitalist 
form, is secondary to the primacy of this process of 
expenditure and loss” (ibid.). 

Bataille also forced us to think outside of the 
narrow definition of restrictive economies and to 
think of economic activity as occurring across abroad 
range of domains, including, probably at its broadest 
level, discourse (Noys, 2000: 104). Here, my claim 
is not without warrant: “The accursed share disrupts 
the discourse it is being sketched out by” (Noys, 
2000: 104). In this way, Bataille saw his work as 
an embarrassment to traditional political economy, 
it was interdisciplinary by design and it brought all 
discursive systems into question by exposing their 
inability to quell the forces of the general economy: 
This [...] addresses, from outside the 
separate disciplines, a problem that still 
has not been framed as it should be, one 


toward an ethics 

that may hold the key to all the problems 
posed by every discipline concerned with 
the movement of energy on the earth — 
from geophysics to political economy, 
by way of sociology, history and biol- 
ogy. Moreover, neither psychology nor, 
in general, philosophy can be considered 
free of this primary question of economy. 

Even what may be said of art, of litera- 
ture, of poetry has an essential connec- 
tion with the movement I study (Bataille, 

1993 : 10 ). 

We may say, with Bataille rather than against 
him, that the general economy also brought his dis- 
course into question. Hermeneutical readings of Ba- 
taille are forced to focus on his restrictive discourse 
rather than his general discourse, the performance 
of the hermeneutical gesture itself opposes the 
general truth circulating within Bataille’s restrict- 
ive discourse. Hermeneutics misses the description 
of that which does not manifest itself within any 
text, the part of the text that connects with all other 
discourses into a common movement, a common 
(w)hole. This, Bataille has called La Part Maudite 
(translated as ‘The Accursed Share’). The accursed 
share is the waste product of discourse that explodes 
forth from a radically foreign outside to all restrictive 


discourses that seek to contain it. Nevertheless, the 
hermeneutical misreading lies dormant, as a poten- 
tiality, within any such discourse — the medium of 
language always reduces the general economy to a 
particular arrangement of appearances: 

This close connection between general 
economy and existing economies always 
makes it possible to reduce general econ- 
omy to a set of economic relations. It also 
means that the data that Bataille uses to 
provide ‘approximations’ of the accursed 
share is easily reversible and instead the 
accursed share can become another eco- 
nomic fact (Noys, 2000: 117). 

The accursed share is the non-recuperable por- 
tion that exists outside of every economy, its prom- 
ise is the immediate and eventual destruction of any 
system or foundation that appears to contain it. It is 
the anarchist current that has always existed with 
or without human intervention, with or without the 
subject as the locus of ethical agency. Any ‘approxi- 
mation’ is a betrayal, a violence posed against the 
laws of the La Part Maudite. 

Once again, there is an apparent relationship 
between Bataille and Marxist political philosophy. 
Like Marx, Bataille sought to describe the logic of 
failure inherent to capitalism from the perspec- 


toward an ethics 

tive of political economy. However in doing so Ba- 
taille greatly surpassed the restricted logic at play 
in Marx’s own texts (and this may very well be be- 
cause Marx did not elaborate any ethical system 
or foundation for bis work). But whereas Marxist 
political philosophy has centred upon its critique of 
conventional economics (even while it did not per- 
form a complete break from the logic of utility, and, 
more problematically, from idealism ) , 30 anarchist 
political philosophy has centred upon a critique of 
the state-form. Nevertheless, one detects a peculiar 
omission in the writings of Georges Bataille which 
no doubt stems from his desire to mythologize the 
discourse of scarcity and endless productivity per- 
vasive in the work of the political economists of the 
time. While it was no doubt important to explore 
the notion of general economy founded upon the 
metaphysical principles of excess and limitless con- 
sumption, Bataille’s work does not give a name to 
the metaphysical principles regulating this econ- 
omy. At the restrictive level, this problem has the 
analogy best exhibited by the traditional anarchist 
critique against the political logic of the Marxists. 

The oft-cited nineteenth century anarchists 
(shamefully, I will restrict my focus to Mikhail Baku- 
nin and Petr Kropotkin) set out to discover a fun- 

30 An implicit critique of Marxisms idealism was provided in Bataille' s 
“ Base Materialism,” an essay available in the Visions of Excess collection. 


damentally different political logic which was to be 
distinguished from the Marxist logic of class inher- 
ent in the base/superstructure synthetic pair. What 
they found was that the Marxist analysis of polit- 
ical oppression neglected the self-perpetuating and 
independent logic of the state and that, according 
to Bakunin (and echoed by countless anarchists to 
this day), the Marxists “do not know that despot- 
ism resides not so much in the form of the state but 
in the very principle of the state and political power” 
(Bakunin, 1984: 220). For the classical anarchists, 
the State — as the fundamental apparatus of power 
in society — represented the barbarity of the transfer 
of power from the people (the repressed content) 
to the tyrannical group. The classical anarchists 
thereby argued that the state was the ultimate riddle 
of power and must therefore be understood as the 
guarantor of wealth for the bourgeoisie. 

With Bataille, we may carry the discoveries of 
the classical anarchist logic even further. In the re- 
strictive sphere we may say the following: if, for the 
classical Marxists, the domain of class referred also 
to the domain of utility then, for the anarchists, we 
may properly deduce that the domain of the state 
referred also to the domain of routine. With this in- 
terpretation we might understand anew the connec- 
tion Kropotkin envisioned between capitalism and 
the state when he proclaimed that “the state [...] and 


toward an ethics 

capitalism are facts and conceptions which we can- 
not separate from each other [...] [i]n the course of 
history these institutions have developed, supporting 
and reinforcing each other” (Kropotkin, [2005]: 
159). The state therefore instituted into logical time 
what was previously cast to the instant, outside of 
the authority of time. The instant as a movement 
outside of means and ends. Thus, we have found 
that it is not the restrictive economy that poses the 
greatest threat to sovereignty, but the restrictive state: 
“what is sovereign in fact is to enjoy the present time 
without having anything else in view but this present 
time” (Bataille, 1993: 199). It is therefore a mat- 
ter of separating, analytically, that which manifests 
itself co-constitutively in the restrictive economy and 
restrictive state, where the logic of each occur or are 
the seeds for the other. As Saul Newman has put it, 
“[a]narchism sees the state as a wholly autonomous 
and independent institution with its own logic of 
domination” ([2001] 2007: 21). Bakunin, perhaps 
the classical anarchist with the most to say about the 
state-form, has similarly put it: 

The State is authority, it is force, it is the 
ostentatious display of and infatuation 
with Power. It does not seek to ingrati- 
ate itself, to win over, to convert. Every 
time it intervenes, it does so with par- 
ticularly bad grace. For by its very nature 


it cannot persuade but must impose and 
exert force. However hard it may try to 
disguise this nature, it will still remain 
the legal violator of man's will and the 
permanent denial of his liberty (Bakunin, 
1953 ). 

The problem of focusing only on problems of 
the economy is also the problem of ignoring the 
independent self-serving logic of the state-form. 
Anarchists have long argued that it is in the interest 
of the state to maintain its legislating power over 
the people — it is short-sighted to provide a telos of 
revolution without taking the autonomous and self- 
serving logic of the state-form into account. 

I have shown that Bataille has outlined a 
general economic model that intervenes into the 
restrictive capitalist economic model, it shall now 
be demonstrated that there is an independent logic 
of the state-form which also occurs from within the 
general perspective. Just as one can speak about 
matters of the general economy, one may also speak 
of matters of the general state. Bataille sufficiently 
intimated the logic of the general state but he did 
not give it a name (such as he did with the ‘general 
economy’)- In the second chapter of The Accursed 
Share he described the “Laws of General Economy” 
and hence argued that the general economy is the 


toward an ethics 

one that is governed by an authority far greater 
than its own (Bataille, 1993: 27). To the extent, 
therefore, that the restrictive state, according to 
Bataille, is homogeneity and routine, the general 
state is heterogeneity and disruption. 

We may say that the logic of the economy oc- 
curs within the range of responses to the question 
of process in meta-ethical philosophy whereas the 
logic of the state -form occurs within the range of re- 
sponses to the question of place. Processes occur by 
way of economies, they are circulations and have all 
the properties of movements/fe/o.?. Places occur by 
way of state-forms, they are locations and have all 
the properties of spaces/categorizations. The econ- 
omy originates, according to Bataille, in a place and 
that place is the sun: “The origin and essence of our 
wealth are given in the radiation of the sun, which 
dispenses energy — wealth — without return. The sun 
gives without ever receiving” (Bataille, 1991: 28). 
Bataille continued, “the brilliance of the sun [...] 
provokes passion. It is not what is imagined by those 
who have reduced it to their poverty; [...] the least 
that one can say is that the present forms of wealth 
make a shambles and a human mockery of those 
who think they own it” (italics in original; Bataille, 
1991: 76). Unpacking all of this, it becomes clear 
that, at the very least, economies concern them- 
selves with production and consumption, but states 


concern themselves with distribution. In the general 
perspective, there is a state that distributes scarce 
matter and there is a solar state (approximately), or 
aperture, that distributes the wealth. In this sense, 
the economy does not emerge from within the 
circulation of its own energy but much rather from a 
place outside of our living sphere, a place of pure ex- 
ternality. The economy emerges from a foreign place 
that is too hot to touch and too bright to see. We 
can only come to know the general state from afar, 
through plays with language, through approxima- 
tions, through failure. We may never own this place 
because it is not an objective entity, but neither is 
it subjective. It is abject , it cuts through the subject 
and the object from a location of pure intimacy. 

Bataille provided several approximations of 
the general economy, from sacrifice and war to gift 
and potlatch, but his overall point was to expose 
the general economy as a movement of pure waste. 
However, as I have suggested, there is also the prob- 
lem of distribution in the restrictive sphere. In the 
restrictive sense, then, we may say that there are, 
broadly, communist, totalitarian, and liberal state- 
forms. In form they embody the logic of the state, in 
content they vary widely. I have described the logic 
of the restrictive state-form earlier. Now we may 
add that there are anarchist state -forms and that 
these can only occur through the general perspec- 


toward an ethics 

tive. To the extent that Bataille was outlining a non- 
foundationalist epistemology through the negative 
response to the question of process, he was also 
describing a non-essentialist and non-representa- 
tive ontology through the negative response to the 
question of place. And therein one may discover his 
anarchistic elaboration of the general state-form. 
Just as there is a lack that sustains the economy of 
our knowledge (language), there is also a lack that 
sustains the state of our being. Thus, while post- 
anarchism exposed the underside to traditional an- 
archist meta-ethics as that which sustains its dis- 
course, Bataille exposed the full range of the meta- 
ethical framework: an underside to the question of 
place and process. Next, I shall aim to elaborate the 
implications of the general state for the realization 
of the negative response to the question of place. 

A Subject Without A State 

To argue that Bataille’s work was primarily 
about ethics — ethics of the second order — may 
appear banal to the advanced reader of Bataille but 
it shall prove important to establish this claim — my 
argument very much depends upon it. Allan Stoekl 
has argued that “Bataille [...] exerts a strong appeal 
because he [...] seems to hold onto the possibility 
of an ethics” (Stoekl, 1990: 2). To the extent that 


this claim is true it merits considerable elaboration 
in as much as Bataille was primarily interested in 
overturning all ethical systems: 

I will simply state, without waiting further, 
that the extension of economic growth it- 
self requires the overturning of economic 
principles — the overturning of the eth- 
ics that grounds them. Changing from 
the perspective of restrictive economy to 
those of general economy actually ac- 
complishes a Copemican transformation: 
a reversal of thinking — and of ethics (ital- 
ics in original; Bataille, 1991: 23). 

But Bataille’s project was not a transformation 
of ethical philosophy. Rather, it was a disruption of 
all ethical claims-making and a rejection of morality 
as such. Benjamin Noys also endorsed this inter- 
pretation of Bataille’s work: “If we read Bataille as 
an ethical thinker [...] we [...] are not conceding to 
the recent ethical turn in contemporary Continental 
philosophy, which rehabilitates theology or mor- 
alistic conceptions of the human subject” (Noys, 
2005: 125). Contrarily, with Bataille we may firmly 
reject all ethical conceptions of the subject in order 
to “transgress the limits of ethics, as it is usually 
conceived” (Noys, 2005: 125). Rather than re- 
jecting restrictive ethical systems in favour of other 


toward an ethics 

positive conceptions, Bataitte exposed the extent 
to which all ethical systems have been subservi- 
ent to a greater power than they sought to describe. 
He thereby exposed an underside to meta-ethical 

The meta-ethical claim that Bataille made, 
apropos the general state, was that the subject is 
no longer a place from which to gauge appropriate 
human activity — she is ceaselessly subordinate to 
general state power. To the extent that the general 
state exists, it exists always elsewhere, in an 
absolute otherness relation to consciousness. The 
general state can never be encapsulated within the 
play of signifiers but is instead the laws or grammar 
of the disruption of this play. Unlike in Lacanian 
or post-anarchist meta-ethics, whether or not one 
gets into accord with this complex matters little in 
the grand scheme of things. For Bataille, there is 
no ethical act proper. Hence, unlike in traditional 
anarchist philosophy, the subject no longer holds 
the privileged place of political activity, rather her 
actions are always encoded in her place by the 
state-ment. Even considering this, this is still an 
inversion of the deterministic conceptions of power 
in relation to the restrictive state and the humanist 
subject in traditional anarchist philosophy. 

At times it appears as though Bataille has 
adopted a base subjectivist response to the question 


of place. There is a paradoxical relationship to the 
general state that appears to become elucidated by 
the ethical activity of self-reflection: “Doubtless it is 
paradoxical to tie a truth so intimate as that of self- 
consciousness (the return of being to full and irredu- 
cible sovereignty) to these completely external deter- 
minations” (italics in original; Bataille, 1991: 189). 
Self-consciousness is the subject’s last resort to 
overcome the anxiety of giving up control of a world 
that is much rather controlled elsewhere and yet it is 
also a means for the subject to overcome this anxiety. 
Thus, self-consciousness takes on a different mean- 
ing in Bataille’s work. It appears that in Bataille’s 
work the intimacy of the world without the authority 
of the subject can be achieved by the subject: 

If self-consciousness is essentially the 
full possession of intimacy, we must 
return to the fact that all possession of 
intimacy leads to a deception. A sacrifice 
can only posit a sacred thing. The sacred 
thing externalizes intimacy: it makes vis- 
ible on the outside that which is really 
within. This is why self-consciousness 
demands finally that, in connection with 
intimacy, nothing further can occur. 

This comes down in fact, as in the ex- 
perience of the mystics, to intellectual 
contemplation, ‘without shape or form,’ 


toward an ethics 

as against the seductive appearances of 
‘visions’, divinities and myths” (italics in 
original; Bataille, 1991: 189). 

The seduction of the subject as the locus of 
ethical activity, according to Bataille, occurs be- 
cause the subject is the place for the construction 
of ‘myths’ — there is hence a parallel to the Lacan- 
ian methodology. And yet intimacy occurs “with- 
out shape or form” and thereby without myths. All 
of Bataille's myths are approximations of intimacy, 
they serve only as pathways toward intimacy or as 
forms that are intended to seduce us into intel- 
lectual contemplation. All positive elaborations on 
meta-ethics go “against consciousness in the sense 
that [they try] to grasp some object of acquisition, 
something, not the nothing of pure expenditure. It 
is a question of arriving at the moment when con- 
sciousness will cease to be a consciousness of some- 
thing'' (italics in original; Bataille, 1991: 1 9 0) . It is 
only in the failure to think that Bataille’s subject of 
intimacy comes into being. 

Bataille was interested in releasing the subject 
from the prison of her own subjectivity and this ac- 
counts for his insistence that the subject ought to 
aim toward “a consciousness that henceforth has 
nothing as its object' (italics in original; Bataille, 
2001: 190). Here, we are provided a useful point 


of departure for rethinking and extending the base 
subjectivist meta-ethics of such anarchists as Max 
Stimer, Renzo Novatore, and others who argued 
that “Nothing is more to me than myself!” (Stimer, 
1907) in Stimer, and, in Novatore, the Nietzschean 
proclamation that one ought to move “toward the 
creative nothing” (Novatore, 1924). Yet the base 
subjectivists have retained the corporeal subject as 
the locus of ethical activity. They have proclaimed 
with so much confidence: “I am not nothing in the 
sense of emptiness, but I am the creative nothing, 
the nothing out of which I myself as creator cre- 
ate everything” (Stimer, 1907). Bataille’s sovereign 
subject, on the other hand, is grounded upon a noth- 
ingness of pure exteriority: “sovereignty is NOTH- 
ING, a nothing that is a slipping away of the subject 
[...] This slipping away is not secondary because it 
does not happen to a subject who is secure or has 
integrity, instead it reveals the unstable status of the 
subject” (Noys, 2000: 75). To be sovereign is not 
to make a conscious ethical choice, it is to recognize 
the sovereignty of being that already exists and to 
give oneself away to it from within the imaginary 
of everyday consciousness. The sovereign subject 
can thus not be reduced to the individual ego (Noys, 
2000: 65) rather it is at once the movement of con- 
sciousness that compels the subject to disrupt her 
authority over her being, to take the proclamation 


toward an ethics 

of non-being seriously (Noys, 2000: 65), and it is 
the revelation of this accidentalism. There is thus a 
shifting of priorities in the text of Renzo Novatore 
when he insisted that he was an anarchist because 
he was also a nihilist: “I call myself a nihilist be- 
cause I know that nihilism means negation ” (italics 
in original; Novatore, 1920), and then he claimed 
that “[when] I call myself an individualist anarchist, 
an iconoclast and a nihilist, it is precisely because 
I believe that in these adjectives there is the high- 
est and most complete expression of my willful and 
reckless individuality” (Novatore, 1920). There is a 
refusal in base subjectivist responses to the question 
of place to think beyond the agency of subject. For 
the base subjectivist, it is she who is responsible for 
the negation and it is she who is responsible for the 
creation that results from this evacuation of place. 
The great battle is between the subject of the state- 
ment and the creative subject of the no-thing. Con- 
trarily, there is an anti -authoritarian dimension to 
Bataille’s meta-ethical system in his subversion of 
the authority of the conscious subject: “Sovereignty 
is the contestation of authority, a reversal of our 
traditional concepts of sovereignty” (Noys, 2000: 
65). Just as the subject’s actions always fall within 
the pervasive logic of the restrictive state, the sover- 
eign subject’s (in)activity always falls within the per- 
vasive logic of the general state. 


There have been arguments against this reduc- 
tion of sovereignty to an ontology of place (cf., Noys, 
2000: 66 et passim). The problem is that some 
readings of Bataille reduce sovereignty to an ontol- 
ogy of the ego. Against this compulsion toward the 
ontological, Derrida has argued that one ought to 
‘read Bataille against Bataille’: “this diffusion resists 
being condensed into an individual or into being” be- 
cause it operates “at the limit” of the subject (Noys, 
2000: 66). However, the question remains, in mov- 
ing toward a faithful reading of Bataille that rejects 
his manifest truth in favour of his latent truth, in re- 
jecting the ontology of the subject, what remains? 
To be sure, this remainder can only be thought 
within the domain of meta-ethics because Bataille’s 
heterogeneous writing crosscuts the ontological and 
epistemological domains and exposes their mutual 
constitution as meta-ethical frameworks. The sub- 
ject is subservient only to the general state-form. She 
serves the authority of the solar non-place. Benja- 
min Noys’s argument that Bataille’s subject can only 
be thought as ‘an effect’ or ‘temporary dam’ implies 
that it can only be reduced to the homogeneity of 
the manifest content. It is a truth, but not the truth 
of Bataille’s text. Fittingly, Noys’s acute description 
of Bataille’s subject as ‘an effect’ fits into the logic of 
the ‘effect’ that Lacanian psychoanalysts have striv- 
en to induce in their analysands. The solar non-place 


toward an ethics 

is thereby meta-ethics proper: it includes the author- 
ity and place from whence ethics originate and the 
knowledge and process through which this author- 
ity speaks. As Noys put it: “Sovereignty does not 
integrate into absolute knowledge but is the non- 
knowledge that undermines it” (Noys, 2000: 79). 
Sovereignty introduces the subject, fleetingly, to that 
which is outside of herself, to that which is neither 
‘individual’ nor ‘social’ (Noys, 2005: 128), “nei- 
ther subject nor object” (Kristeva, 1982: 1), to that 
which horrifies the subject and brings her to her limit 
in death. It is precisely this thinking that destabil- 
izes the base subjectivist position (cf., Noys, 2005: 
128 et -passim, on the ‘psychoanalytic subject’). The 
refusal of the subject is itself an ethics of disruption 
and Bataille has called this ethics, ‘abjection’. 

The question remains: if, as I have attempted 
to demonstrate, Bataille’s meta-ethics are nihilist 
in the strict sense of the term, then what may we 
say about his first order ethics? Two further lines of 
thought are required to develop a response to this 
question. First, I shall aim to describe Bataille’s eth- 
ics of abjection as the limit of the subject within the 
domain of meta- ethical discourse and second I shall 
aim to demonstrate that Bataille’s notion of ‘sacri- 
fice’ offers us a chance to reformulate the challenge 
of first order ethics. 


From Abjection to Sacrifice, From Life to 
Death and Back Again 

The question remains, if the preoccupation of 
the meta- ethical discourse hitherto described aims 
only toward the disruption of ethical claims -making 
and if Bataille’s meta-ethics rejects the subject as the 
locus of ethical agency, then, I hesitate to ask, on 
what basis might there be any pertinent political in- 
volvement? To the extent that this question merits 
a response I shall provide one based on the notions 
of ‘abjection’ and ‘sacrifice’ in Bataille’s work. I shall 
argue that sacrifice rescues ethics from the destruc- 
tive trajectory of meta- ethics. After the slipping of the 
subject in nihilist meta-ethics there is still room for 
one to engage ethically in the world. However, the 
response, once again, will prove itself paradoxical. 

I have argued that the general state destabilizes 
the subject as an ontological category and in doing 
so it exposes the object of ethics proper — an ethics 
of the outside that is mythologically associated with 
the sun. According to Bataille, ethical activity is not 
something the subject performs but rather it is some- 
thing performed upon (and against) the subject by 
the forces of an external nature. We may say that the 
abject is the object of Bataille’s meta-ethical inquiry 
and that it crosscuts positive conceptions of place 
and process. Abjection is the effect of the general 


toward an ethics 

economy on positive notions of place: “What opens 
in this rupture, in this shattering of the subject, are 
those states of abjection [...] They include death, ex- 
cretions, objects of horror, ecstatic enjoyment (jouis- 
sance) and so on, and are ‘things to be embraced, 
not exactly willingly, but that must be addressed in 
their horror’” (Noys, 2005: 131). The abject is what 
remains after the imposition of the subject; fleeting 
glimpses of this object are available through reduc- 
tions in useful knowledge. It is only where knowledge 
is lacking that the subject proper (Bataille’s intimate 
or sovereign subject) comes into view. 

I have also argued that Bataille’s meta-ethics 
must be distinguished from base subjectivist under- 
standings of place on the basis of this ethics of ab- 
jection. Whereas base subjectivists have retained 
the ethical agency of the subject, the base mater- 
ialist philosophy of Georges Bataille rejected the 
subject entirely and replaced it with the solar econ- 
omy. Noys has broached this topic in various ways, 
he has argued, for example, that “psychoanalysis 
inclines to recover the subject” from the effects of 
the Real, but “Bataille puts the subject into free 
fall” (Noys, 2005: 131). It is therefore only a mat- 
ter of convenience that scholars have traced a lin- 
eage from Bataille to Lacan, from abjection to the 
Real. But one must distinguish between the ethics 
of psychoanalysis and the ethics of abjection on the 


basis of the subject’s lost intimacy with the world 
that surrounds her. As Noys has put it, 

[Cjritics [have] assimilate[d] Bataille’s 
thought to that of Lacan, especially see- 
ing it as a prefiguration of Lacan’s concept 
of the Real [...] The problem with these 
arguments is that they tend to reduce Ba- 
taille to a precursor to Lacan, missing the 
complexity of Bataille’s own writings. In 
particular, they risk subsuming Bataille 
back within the Freudian field, rather 
than attending to what in his work ‘eludes 
psychoanalysis’ (Noys, 2005: 132). 

The crucial distinction between Bataille’s con- 
cept of abjection and Lacan’s concept of the Real 
is that Bataille’s abjection “escapes the subject [...] 
For Bataille the shattered subject is not gathered up, 
even into the subject of the unconscious or the sub- 
ject of abjection” (Noys, 2005: 132-3). How does 
Bataille’s philosophy expose what is more Lacan 
than Lacan? Bataille’s more Lacan than Lacan is, 
precisely, in his ontologization of Lacan. 

To the extent that an ethics beyond abjection 
is possible it shall depend upon an elaboration of 
the notion of sacrifice. I do not intend to perform 
this daunting task here but I do intend to provide a 
pathway for future work into the area. In “Sacrifi- 


toward an ethics 

cial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van 
Gogh,” Bataille described Van Gogh’s ethical sac- 
rifice as the one that “spat in the faces of all those 
who have accepted the elevated and official idea of 
life that is so well known.” To the extent that eth- 
ical activity exists in the world there shall never be 
a meta-ethical system of knowledge to account for 
it unless it is the description of its failure. My claim 
is that sacrifice occurs where servitude is assumed. 

Sacrifice occurs where servitude is assumed: 
Bataille argued that sacrifice always “appears in our 
eyes as servitude” (Bataille, 1985). If it is true that 
sacrifice occurs where servitude is assumed perhaps 
the appearance of servitude is the ethical act of sac- 
rifice proper. The process of gift-giving, for example, 
abides by a logic which exchanges “the materially 
valuable for that which is culturally meaningful [...] 
Sacrifice is the act of exchanging that which is valued 
for meaning” (Thought Factory, 2004). The ethical 
act is the one that gives up on trying to overcome 
the problem of place and process and, instead, con- 
cedes purposeful activity only to the abject. There is 
thus a violence inherent to the ethical act but it is a 
violence that radiates from the restrictive economies 
and states of idealist culture rather than the violence 
that disrupts these frameworks. To be sure, the me- 
ta-ethical task falls into nihilism by virtue of a vio- 
lence that exceeds the frameworks of any discourse 


that seeks to contain it, but the ethical task is to give 
in to the restrictive systems and foundations that 
sustain life and to hence expose a violence against 
the sacred intimacy that destabilizes the subject As 
Noys argued, “Bataille wants to express a violence 
that is radically beyond language, and he searches 
for examples of this violence in acts of sacrifices [...] 
The difficulty is that these examples reduce violence 
back into language and into a particular historical 
moment of subject [...] Violence exists somewhere in 
the play of the example, existing through examples 
but also ruining the idea of the example through a 
violent opening” (italics in original; Noys, 2000: 10). 

To give way to the abject implies two conse- 
quences: on the one hand, it implies that all activity is 
grounded upon failure and so too are the frameworks 
which are presumed descriptions of this activity. Fail 
again, fail better. The anarchists have never had a 
victory and yet we find some pleasure in this defeat. 
We fail better than any other political agent. But this 
also means that there is a violence inflicted, in the 
restrictive sense, through this activity. This thereby 
explains the meaning of the following: “Sacrifice 
exposes us to death but also saves us from death” 
(Noys, 2000: 1 3). For the anarchist — it is a crime to 
go to graduate school, get married, have children, or 
otherwise reproduce the existing homogeneity, and 
yet we know that the existing order is sustained by 


toward an ethics 

a force much greater than the restrictive states and 
economies that come and go through time. There is 
an order of the symbolic that compels us into servi- 
tude. Anarchists are often asked: what in this life is 
anarchist? We may say that very little in life is an- 
archist because every act is absorbed by the symbol- 
ic order and provided with meaning and value. The 
great sacrific t for an anarchist is thus to give oneself 
away to tolerable systems and foundations and to be 
stoned to death by her family, other anarchists, and 
so on, for doing so. It means that there are sacrifices 
that one has to make violently by both refusing meta- 
ethical systems and foundations but also in accepting 
certain ones as effects or approximations of anarch- 
ism. The ethical task is not to sacrifice a king, but to 
sacrifice ourselves to the king, to find in our sacrifice 
to the king a sabotage of the king. Several years ago I 
found myself in the middle of a political campaign at 
my university. Anarchists were teamed with avowedly 
Leninist political organizers on the political platform 
‘United for Change.’ I was saddened by the amount 
of recuperation happening in my milieu. I put up 
posters in support of the group. However, I did so 
before the permitted time and in volumes not per- 
mitted by union regulation: I accepted their platform 
too much. They were very nearly disqualified. As a 
consequence, my anarchist friends called the police 
on me, threatened legal action against me, and so on. 


I was threatened with violence. Fireworks were shot 
at my home, where my newborn baby slept. Letters 
and photographs were placed all around the internet. 
I was ex-communicated from the milieu. My pub- 
lisher was notified that I was an agent provocateur, 
working and being paid by the state. Nothing that the 
sacrificed anarchist can say shall allow her to return 
to intimacy, and yet everyday she strives to build a 
better world anyway — a dying anarchist performs 
this function in secret, much like the dying criminal 
who “[a]ddresses himself to the crowd, a dying crim- 
inal was the first to formulate this commandment: 
‘Never confess’” (Bataille, 2001: 79). The anarchists 
never ran for presidency again. 

For Bataille, “[t]here is no [ethical] project; 
[...] only the defeat of all accomplishment” (Stoekl, 
1990: 4), we may also say that we have arrived at 
a crucial paradox in the work of Bataille, one that 
makes his ethical system tremble: as Stoekl has put 
it: “therein lies the problem, because any ‘saying’ 
or ‘writing’ [or doing], no matter how disjointed or 
disseminated, is already the product of a project, of a 
constructive activity not different in kind from that of 
the most servile ‘committed’ writer” (Stoekl, 1990: 
4) . The problem i s that Bataille ’s meta- ethi cal system 
appears to imply that the intimate subject ought no 
longer to act in the world. Certainly, inactivity has its 
place in any political program, but, at the same time, 


toward an ethics 

one can imagine scenarios in which this negative 
proposition also falls flat into a stable doctrine. For 
Stoekl, “Bataille can only be the ‘nothing’ and the 
imposition and betrayal of that ‘nothing’ through the 
coherent project of writing” (italics in original; Stoekl, 
1990: 4). This betrayal, which occurs, I have argued, 
as sacrifice, “opens, in turn, even larger vistas of 
betrayal” (Stoekl, 1990: 4). Stoekl has taken this 
logic to its limit: 

So perhaps in Bataille there is the neces- 
sity of morality and representation, no 
matter how ‘accursed’, along with its 
impossibility. There is the [...] betrayal of 
the [...] ‘nothing’, elaborated at the ex- 
pense of the ethical, and there is, in and 
through that very writing, the impossi- 
bility of maintaining its purity, and thus 
the consequent, incessant, re-positing of 
the ethical, even in the representation of 
its defeat or sundering (Stoekl, 1990: 5). 

Stoekl’s point is that through positive sacrificial 
ethical acts there is the potential, but not the con- 
clusion, of ever new opportunities for the exposition 
of the nothing which founds and propels the spe- 
cies. This claim is not without warrant: according to 
Heimonet & Kohchi (1990) sacrifice, like the logic 
of heterogeneity, occurs across two counterposing 


dimensions. Heimonet & Kohchi describe sacrifice 
as an “opening, a rendering apart, quartering of a 
subject tensed for the leap but nevertheless held 
back on the verge of the abyss of total alterity” (Hei- 
monet & Kohchi, 1990: 227). The ‘leap’ carries 
strong connotations with Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘leap 
to faith’ whereby the intimate subject leaps into un- 
certainty and thereby returns once again to intimacy. 
Bataille’s infamous ethical imperative is that one 
must ‘recoil in order to leap forward’. For Bataille, 
one must move away from meta- ethics precisely to 
understand meta-ethics but, without having jumped 
into meta-ethics, he would have never arrived at this 
conclusion! Inevitably, one must disrupt meta-eth- 
ical systems to once againpartake in ethical practice. 

There are thus two meanings by the concept 
‘sacrifice’ in Bataille’s work. Heirmonet & Kohchi 
have argued that these two concepts of sacrifice 
“which are actually one, double or dual, at once 
antithetical and complementary [...] correspond 
to two moments in the experience and thought of 
Bataille” (Heirmonet & Kohchi, 1990: 227). The 
authors have argued that the first moment — what I 
have called his meta-ethics — was characterized by 
negativity. This was his radical or activist political 
movement. The second moment was his theoretical 


toward an ethics 

movement. This was his secret, his silent, moment. 31 
It should be noted that the first moment is political 
only to the extent that it gives voice, however nega- 
tive, to resistance whereas the latter moment exists 
only within a theoretical domain, uncoded, untrans- 
lated, without recuperation by the symbolic order — 
a sacrifice proper. The second moment does not 
provide any words on activity in the world — it is a 
simple performance without law. In the end, these 
two moments only exist by way of appearances (Hei- 
monet & Kohchi, 1990: 228), there is actually no 
separation of these movements — rather, they are a 
“dialectically complimentarity” (Heimonet & Kohchi, 
1990: 228). Sacrifice is thus the dialecticalization 
of Bataille’s meta-ethical system and foundation, it 
is the putting into practice of a failed proclamation: 
“he [Bataille] suggests becoming silent and putting 
into practice the excesses represented by the divine 
Marquis” (Heimonet & Kohchi, 1990: 228). 

The practice of sacrifice brings us to an under- 
standing of the role of silence in radical activity. Si- 
lence is a practice, but it is not the sort of practice 
that is performed by intimate subjects, rather it is 
that which interrupts the noise of ethical activity. 

31 According to, theory, from the Greek theoria 

(c.1590) means “contemplation, a looking at” — we may reformulate this 
to imply a contemplation on intimacy, as described by Bataille through 
the concept of sovereignty. 


Silence is hence, according to Bataille, “a ques- 
tion of speaking, silence being the last thing that 
language can silence, and which language can- 
not nonetheless take as its object without a kind 
of crime” (Bataille in Mitchell & Winfree, 2009: 
199). To the extent that sacrifice is a violence that 
is inflicted upon the subject, it is also a refusal to 
“declare either its own existence or its right to exist; 
it simply exists” (Bataille, 1986: 188). After years 
of contemplation on the subject of silence, Bataille 
was forced to admit: “I know this now: I don’t have 
the means to silence myself” (Bataille, 1986: 68). 
The problem is that in the description of the fail- 
ure of language one performs the contradiction of 
expressing silence through language. I have hence 
failed, as a criminal, to perform in secret the sacri- 
fice of graduate life, for example. The sacrifice that 
occurs, therefore, is the one that gets on with its 
day with all of the violence that this entails, includ- 
ing the violence against the sacred art of sacrifice 
itself. A sacrifice, without words. A sacrifice I could 
not perform today. A sacrifice, I ask, indeed beg, of 
all anarchists who read this volume: learn the fine 
art of pretending to be an anarchist. Hide this book. 
Do not let the other anarchists read it. 


toward an ethics 


Georges Bataille aimed to describe the sacred 
principles of the general economy. However, in the 
preface to the first volume of The Accursed Share, 
he admitted that his work always failed at this task. 
To the extent that his work articulated the sacred 
it did so only through betrayed ‘approximations’ 
(Noys, 2000: 117). In this sense, Bataille was writ- 
ing through the Lacanian ‘analyst’s discourse’: his 
discourse “trace[d] a contour around that which it 
hovers about, circles, and skirts” (Fink, 1997: 28). 
More than anything else, Bataille’s writing approxi- 
mated silence. In his essay “The Method of Medi- 
tation” (a chapter from The Unfinished System of 
Non-Knowledge, 2001), he described silence as 
the practice of sovereignty: “The sovereign is in the 
domain of silence, and if we talk about it we in- 
criminate the silence that constitutes it. [...] We can 
certainly execute the study, but only in the worst, 
the most painful conditions” (Bataille, 2001: 126). 
It has been under this painful condition that I have 
executed my study of the intersections of three 
philosophical traditions. 

I have attempted to satisfy two mutually exclu- 
sive demands that have been imposed upon me from 
opposite locations: the demand to construct a sys- 
tem of knowledge about Bataille from the position of 


the academy (the discourse of the university) and the 
demand to sabotage this system of knowledge about 
Bataille through the faithful reading of his work. 
Moreover, in succumbing to the former demand I 
have also failed in my sovereign task (the latter de- 
mand): “Even, as far as talking about it, it is contra- 
dictory to search for these movements [...] Insofar as 
we seek something, whatever this might be, we do 
not live sovereignly, we subordinate the present mo- 
ment to a future moment, which will follow it” (ital- 
ics in original; Bataille, 2001: 126). 

I have thus come to acknowledge that there are 
at least two ways in which failure ought to be under- 
stood in relation to my essay. First, I have failed in 
the putting-into -practice of Bataille’s ethics of fail- 
ure. By constructing a system of knowledge for the 
academy I have failed to perform the sovereign func- 
tion of silence. Likewise, Bataille’s work “aimed at 
the acquisition of a knowledge,” even where this 
knowledge was discovered to be “that of an error” 
(Bataille, 1991: 10-11). For my part, I have aimed 
to demonstrate that a knowledge of the failed eth- 
ics of anarchism can be elaborated in reference to 
the failed knowledge of Bataille. Second, I have also 
realized that the failure to perform failure, product- 
ive as it may be, nonetheless necessitates future 
reductions of useful knowledge. It therefore dawns 
upon me that failure operates across two planes: 



the general and the restrictive economies. Bataille’s 
reduction of the general economy to the restrictive 
economy has proved essential to a full understand- 
ing of the ethics of failure. Bataille had to fail so that 
he could approximate the sacred relationship and to 
promote movements toward sovereignty — Bataille 
could not be silent. Similarly, post- anarchists had to 
fail by producing a reductionist discourse in order to 
demonstrate the problems of reductionism. We get 
the sense that the first moment of failure is evident 
in the following passage from the preface to the first 
volume of The Accursed Share: 

In other words, my work tended first of 
all to increase the sum of human resour- 
ces, but its findings showed me that this 
accumulation was only a delay, a shrink- 
ing back from the inevitable [...] Should I 
say that under these conditions I some- 
times could only respond to the truth of 
my book and could not go on writing it? 

[...] A book that [...] the author would 
not have written if he had followed its 
lesson to the letter [...] This invites dis- 
trust at the outset (italics in original; Ba- 
taille, 1991: 10-11). 

However, there is a second moment in 
Bataille’s thought that continued after the outset, 


one that brings us to a fuller understanding of the 
two economies: 

This invites distrust at the outset and 
yet, what if it were better not to meet 
any expectation and to offer precisely 
that which [...] people deliberately avoid 
[...] It would serve no purpose to neglect 
the rules of rigorous investigation, which 
proceeds slowly and methodically (ital- 
ics in original; Bataille, 1991: 11). 

There is an initial failure that occurs when 
the sovereign attempts to elucidate the principles 
of the general economy through the restrictive 
economy of the state-ment and there is the 
secondary failure that occurs when the sovereign 
employs the restrictive economy of the state-ment 
in order to approximate the silence of the general 
economy. In providing a knowledge of the elusive 
truth inherent to the general economy Bataille also 
temporarily betrayed it and this is an inexcusable 
contradiction for many keen interpreters. But, as a 
second moment of failure, Bataille argued that his 
writing 'performed failure (“what if it were better not 
to meet any expectation and to offer precisely what 
which [...] people deliberately avoid [...] It would 
serve no purpose to neglect the rules of rigorous 



According to Jeremy Biles, it is this latter per- 
formance that evoked the sacred truth of Bataille’s 
work (Biles, 2007: 27): that one fails in order to 
succeed. There is thus a dualism implied in the en- 
actment of sacrifice — Bataille performed the failure 
while simultaneously exposing it and in doing so he 
destroyed the coherence granted to the performance. 
Biles continued, “the sacred at once fuses what the 
profane had rendered distinct” (Biles, 2007: 28; 
this is a point elaborated considerably by Hollier, 
1990): “[Sjacrifice is the enactment of an attitude 
of thought that is doomed to failure, dissatisfaction, 
and imperfection” (Biles, 2007: 28). Or, as Michael 
Richardson has put it: “In order to treat the sacred, 
must we not by definition turn it into something that 
is profane and, by doing so, does it not destroy the 
very object it wants to study?” (Richardson, 1994: 
48). To bring this to point, Lacan has suggested that 
the symbolic order precludes the possibility of a re- 
turn to the intimacy of the Real. This therefore raises 
the following problematic: one can only perform ap- 
proximations of the primordial failure without ever 
accessing it. I began my essay by claiming that my 
conceptual systems have already failed me, however 
I shall now end with the proposition that my clas- 
sification systems also intended to 'perform failure. 

I have claimed that Georges Bataille’s ethical 
philosophy converges in interesting ways with re- 


cent readings of the anarchist tradition from the 
standpoint of an emergent body of thought known 
as post- anarchism. My first confession, that my 
classification systems intended to perform a fail- 
ure, consisted of the following objective: I aimed to 
defy the contemporary codes of what it means to be 
an anarchist in the academy. I shall now end with 
a final confession: over the course of almost two 
decades of higher education I have learned that to 
be an anarchist in the academy is to consequently 
occupy a liminal zone between two (admittedly un- 
stable) identities. On the one hand, as an anarchist 
one’s obj e ct of investi gati on i s imme di ately rej e cte d 
by academics as naive and contradictory; to be an 
anarchist in the academy is to have one’s research 
mocked — it means avoiding social encounters with 
other academics for fear of constant humiliation. 
On the other hand, as an academic one is immedi- 
ately dismissed by anarchists for ostensibly speak- 
ing the “discourse of the university”; to be an aca- 
demic within the anarchist milieu is to have one’s 
research mocked as well — it means being excluded 
from social encounters with other anarchists for 
fear of having their radical epistemologies recuper- 
ated by academic systems of knowledge. 

To be sure, there are also advantages to this in- 
sider-outsider position. Patricia Hill Collins ar-gued 
that black feminists in the university often occupy 



a strange insider- outsider relation to the academic 
community and the black community (cf., Col- 
lins, 2000), as if tom between two epistemologies. 
But, according to Collins, this position allows one 
to remain distrustful of both identities and to put 
them both into question — it allows a unique van- 
tage point from which to critically evaluate aspects 
of both communities. It has been my expressed 
purpose to question both of my identities (as an 
anarchist and as an academic) from another stand- 
point. This standpoint remains not in-between 
but unsettled, unsure, and perpetually suspicious 
of both identities (without, necessarily, remaining 
neutral). In this respect my thesis has been an at- 
tempt to come to terms with my own position in be- 
tween two worlds and to problematize the manifest 
ethical discourses of both in order to arrive at some- 
thing new. What I have discovered is only ‘new’ in 
the sense that it is the object of multiple traditions 
that has hitherto been repressed. I have discovered 
a meta-ethics that opens up the discursive system 
of traditional anarchism rather than pinning it down 
to any meta-ethical discourse (resistance to clos- 
ure). By way of concluding this essay, I shall now 
describe what brought me to this position. It is only 
by going to the end that we truly mark a beginning: 

I began with the argument that post-anarchism 
and traditional anarchism ought to be considered a 


part of the same tradition, linked by a shared latent 
ethical imperative. The move toward post-anarch- 
ism has highlighted the ethical preoccupation of 
traditional anarchist philosophy. Post- anarchism 
is therefore a meta-ethical discourse on traditional 
anarchism. I argued that contemporary meta-ethical 
discourse has elaborated nihilist responses to meta- 
ethical questions. The method of the meta-ethical 
nihilists has been to hold all positive responses to 
place and process under contempt. However, vari- 
ous nihilist meta-ethical discourses have held either 
place or process under more suspicion. It is for this 
reason that I defined two nihilist discourses in re- 
lation to contemporary anarchism: first, ethical 
skeptics suspect positive responses to the question 
of process but they do not reject the subject as the 
locus of ethical activity, and; second, deep nihilists 
reject the political category subject entirely. The 
former classification has contributed to base sub- 
jectivist possibilities and the latter classification has 
contributed to base materialist possibilities. 

I focused specifically on post-anarchist meta- 
ethics and found that it largely adopted the base 
subjectivist response to the questions of place and 
process. I have argued that this perspective may be 
limited in that the discourse aimed squarely to prob- 
lematize the essentialism of traditional anarchism 
without giving equal attention to the problematiza- 



tion of foundationalism. To the extent that essen- 
tialism responds positively to the question of place, 
foundationalism is the positive answer to the ques- 
tion of process. Many post- anarchists have adopted 
relativist epistemologies — whereby a multiplicity of 
truth-claims has been preferred to universal truth- 
claims — and pluralist political positions. I have 
argued that there is a false choice between relativism 
and universalism and that the ‘third way’ — evident 
in the latent tradition that links post- anarchism to 
traditional anarchism — is a rejection of all truth- 
claims in favour of uncertainty. I also argued that the 
anarchists insistence that their tradition’s c factor is 
‘ethics’ comes as a bit of a surprise — to the extent 
that it has been ethical it has also consistently failed 
to codify positive ethical prescriptions. Paradoxically, 
it is precisely this failure to consistently elucidate an 
ethics that has been the ethical move par excellence. 

I brought post-anarchist discourse into a re- 
lationship with the philosophy of Georges Bataille. 
To the extent that post- anarchism problematizes 
traditional anarchist philosophy, Georges Bataille’s 
philosophy may be used to problematize post-an- 
archist philosophy and to offer yet another point 
of departure: an anti- ess entialist and anti-founda- 
tionalist philosophy that I have classified as nihilist 
anarchism. The nihilist anarchist, like Nietzsche’s 
passive nihilist, demonstrates “strength” in that her 


“previous goals (‘convictions,’ articles of faith) have 
become incommensurate (for a faith generally ex- 
presses [...] submission to [...] authority)” (Nietz- 
sche, 1968: 17-18). Where once constraint was 
thought to be exercised by the state, the contem- 
porary anarchist finds this power to be manifested 
in a whole range of places, reducible only to the 
subject of the state-ment. But Nietzsche also de- 
scribed an “active nihilism” and this problematizes 
the “lack of strength” that nihilist anarchists may 
feel toward “oneself, [and] productively [toward] a 
goal, a why, a faith” (Nietzsche, 1968: 18). Con- 
sequently, the active nihilist creates her own values 
in life and leaves them uncoded — her ethical act is 
performed in silence. Similarly, Bataille’s ethical act 
is the one that does not get recuperated by meta- 
ethical discourse. My conclusion is that nihilist an- 
archism, as the tradition that lurks always beneath 
anarchism, maintains that all ethical acts are the 
ones that do not get reified by language — precisely, 
this is its meta-ethics. 




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The accursed share is the non-recuperable 
portion that exists outside of every economy, 
its promise is the immediate and eventual 
destruction of any system or foundation 
that appears to contain it. It is the anarchist 
current that has always existed with or 
without human intervention, with or without 
the subject as the locus of ethical agency. 

ISBN: 978-1-62049-005-1